TIFF 2021: ‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ Is a Competent Feminist Drama

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The Mad Womens Ball

In the strange spirituality of The Mad Women’s Ball, a merciless medical system, and the systemic abuses that women have historically suffered at the hands of men in power come together in chilling dance. In her film, writer-director-actor Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds and Breathe) casts a cold glance on how the fields of medicine and psychiatry have used women as the scapegoats and lab rats of progress, without the essential foundation of care and understanding.

The Mad Women’s Ball centers on the free-spirited Eugénie. Her boldness and independent mind already make her an abnormality in 19th century France, but it is her visions of specters and communication with the dead that lands her in a neurological institution. In the institution, Eugénie meets women of all ages—some are seeking help for a myriad of conditions and others have been taken there to be forgotten. What awaits all of them is a system of abuse, condescension, and dehumanization.

True to the form of any period drama, this movie is an elegantly assembled film that utilizes the setting to glorious effect. Lou de Laâge and Mélanie Laurent are positively magnetic and bring equal measures of warmth and calculation to their respective roles. The result is an unlikely friendship that reads well on screen and sells the balance of spirituality and science that The Mad Women’s Ball relies upon.

Wrapped up in this story of the ugly truths of institutional abuse is a softer tale of what it means to be truly healed. Care is something that comes from connection and kindness and the desire to help others however you can. The poetic irony of this movie is that each of the “mad women” proves to be a greater healer than any of the doctors that oversee their treatment. These women tell stories, protect one another, and offer up whatever gifts they have to get their sisters through. That has such impact and it is a message that strikes a contemporary chord.

The Mad Women’s Ball boasts several commendable attributes that make it a perfectly competent drama. The film skews distinctly feminist, even going so far as to have a close brush with “girl power.” This isn’t necessarily a mark against the film, but a thought to turn over when looking at the film holistically. The movie is good… but it’s very surface level. The film only just begins to skim over the surface of its core issues and offers up abuse as punctuation to the meandering plot. The runtime doesn’t feel entirely justified as, for all of its grandstanding, it does not say very much at all.

It’s difficult to give a firm ruling on The Mad Women’s Ball. The portrayals of female connection and shared experience are beautifully done and give meaning to the exercise. However, the film does not boldly go into the darker shadows of its subject matter. The end product is a great actor’s piece that is a tad hollow at the center.

The Mad Women’s Ball screened at the Toronto International Film Festival 2021.


The Mad Women's Ball
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

It’s difficult to give a firm ruling on The Mad Women’s Ball. The portrayals of female connection and shared experience are beautifully done and give meaning to the exercise. However, the film does not boldly go into the darker shadows of its subject matter. The end product is a great actor’s piece that is a tad hollow at the center.