The Bal des folles, it is first of all a novel by Victoria Mas, bookstore box and Renaudot Prize for high school students in 2019. The story of Eugénie, a girl from a good family interned at the Pitié Salpêtrière, in Paris in the 1880s, has fascinated the actress and director Mélanie Laurent who made the adaptation, giving the answer to Lou De Laage who plays the main role. This historical and feminist drama is available exclusively this Friday on the Prime Video platform. The opportunity to ask a few questions to its author …
Victoria Mas’ book was very successful when it was released. Did you immediately want to bring it to the screen?
It didn’t quite turn out like that. I had moved abroad, I had just had a little girl, which was very important to me. I really wanted to make a period film, and in my body and in my mind, there were only witch hunts, women being silenced, women who knew things and who scared everyone. society or the clergy. I only had stories like that. Maybe because I wanted to talk about the condition of women in a not so distant time, to remind us where we come from. One day the producer Alain Goldman calls me and tells me I have a book, it’s called The Bal des folles, he quickly tells me the story and then I say to myself… Life is beautiful!
This is called the correct alignment of the planets …
And I love it! Suddenly he sends me the book, by post, I spend a few days waiting for him, and then I discover it, with this little girl stuck to me. And that was truly the story I dreamed of. I only met Victoria a few days ago and found her bright, sweet, adorable, strong. She left me a lot of freedom in the adaptation, in all the betrayals specific to this kind of exercise. And at the same time, that’s what is beautiful. After that, it’s true that the book itself had a real cinematographic structure.
For any disturbing woman at the time, La Salpêtrière was the solution. For fathers, and also mothers, who no longer knew what to do with their children.
Many readers of Victoria Mas were shocked when they discovered the experiments that Professor Charcot carried out on these women who were considered to be crazy. Was it a surprise for you too?
It might be a bad sign, but it didn’t shock me to know that it was like that. Because we have become accustomed to discovering violence against women for centuries. What overwhelmed me, above all, was to realize how much 1880 really was the era of spiritualism. This is why the film, and not the book, begins with the funeral of Victor Hugo. Because Victor Hugo, who had lost his daughter and never recovered from it, was very fond of these sessions of spiritualism. He spoke, he found his daughter in spirit. This man everyone loved, even idolized, had the right to do that. So much so that I wanted to start with a small, very fragile, very thin figure, who is upset by the death of this man. Because she could have relieved him with her gift. But who doesn’t have the right to do it because she is a woman.
The film questions the notion of madness, as it is decreed by doctors. But above all what it means to “be normal” at this time, right?
Absoutely. For any disturbing woman at the time, La Salpêtrière was the solution. For fathers, and also mothers, who no longer knew what to do with their children. That’s why the character of the brother interested me so much. He is homosexual, but that is not a problem as long as he will one day marry a woman. As it is the son, we close our eyes to this difference. And it’s incredible to think that in 2021, we are depositing young gay boys in rehabilitation centers to try to “cure the evil”. At the time of the film, the boys were pretty safe in those families, and today not at all. While young girls had no right to do so since the patriarchal society prevented them from having access to power, to culture, to knowledge … And in the worst case, some found themselves in this hospital which looked more like a prison following an unrealistic diagnosis. A woman could spend her whole life there because she suffered from melancholy and no one knew what to do with it at the time.
I wanted to see all the beauty of Lou De Laage, all her strength, her playing maturity also because she is an actress that I have seen growing up for years.
Visually, this is your most ambitious film. Is it the sum of everything you have done before?
This is the film of maturity! (Laughs). It is above all a film that I made with a lot of freedom. Not that I missed it before. Let’s say it is perhaps more extensive than the others. I think his subject might be stronger too. I wanted to make a classic period film, with a few anachronisms, with a few short trips sometimes. I wanted to jump into my cinematographic references. I had Camille Claudel dyears old, I had Bright Star in the head. Films that brought me to life. I wanted to see all the beauty of Lou De Laage, all her strength, her playing maturity also because she is an actress that I have seen growing up for years. I wanted her to take this period dress, this bun that comes undone. I wanted to see her struggle, fight, be, be reborn. There is something very epic about this movie.
This film, we would like to see it on a cinema screen. Isn’t it frustrating that it is broadcast on a platform?
No, my great frustration would have been to only release it in a few theaters and only in France. While there, I take it out in 240 countries, the same day, at the same time. And this film, with this story, this message, I want it to travel and a desire to go and confront myself with other cultures. I want to meet a Brazilian woman one day who will tell me: “I’ll tell you what was happening in 1880“. And that is stronger, it exceeds all frustration. And then I think that the more we are going to advance in time, the more the platforms will stop being opposed to the theaters. I think people were so delighted and happy in this very dark period that we have just gone through to have access to real cinema on any screen.
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