TYears ago, Mélanie Laurent was filming Inglourious Basterds, playing a runaway Jew on the run from the evil Christoph Waltz. At the end of each day’s shooting, Quentin Tarantino played music on set. After a particularly hard day, David Bowie’s Cat People boomed from the speakers. “We would dance. It was glorious, ”he recalls.
At the film’s premiere, Laurent was touted as France’s next big thing. Peter Bradshaw wrote: “She could easily be the new French star to cross over into the Anglo-Saxon film world, like Catherine Deneuve or Juliette Binoche or Emmanuelle Béart or Marion Cotillard.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, audiences will be more familiar with his work from two insane Netflix offerings: Michael Bay’s jaw-droppingly silly thriller 6 Underground, and French-language sci-fi hokum Oxygen (Laurent wakes up trapped in an airtight cryogenic box) .
But now she has directed her fourth, and most ambitious, feature film, The Dance of Crazy Women, a silent but poignant costume drama a world away from Bastards or outrageous blockbusters. Pre-Covid, the film could have been seen in some art houses outside of France. But now, it will be available on Amazon in 240 countries for an estimated potential audience of more than 200 million. “Thank goodness for the platforms,” he says.
The mad women’s dance could be described as a French feminist who flew over the cuckoo’s nest. It is a historical drama about women misdiagnosed as hysterical and imprisoned in the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris in 1885. At the end of each day’s shooting, Laurent listened to music for his cast and crew. “I stole it from Tarantino. He even had a playlist. “Like?” Crazy, “she replies, laughing at Zoom from Paris.” I can’t remember who it is. “He hums a few bars. Gnarls barkley, I told her.
The film was made during the confinement; Laurent does not ignore the allegory of a group of people maddened by incarceration. But, he says, the terrible truth is that the women imprisoned at Salpêtrière were not crazy but rather were their doctors, including a young Sigmund Freud and the hospital’s chief neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot.
“When I did the research, I was very surprised to find that the women weren’t crazy and the diagnoses of hysteria were wrong. Young women came to the hospital traumatized by a terrible rape and had a hysterical reaction to being treated like animals and experienced. That’s what really killed me. “
Laurent’s film, adapted from Victoria’s bestseller Mas of the same name, is an eloquent cri de coeur against patriarchal medical control. Hysteria, the film suggests, was then a blanket term that allowed doctors to control women, many of whom had previously been abused.
Not surprisingly, those women who claimed to have visions were marginalized by society or treated like crazy by a patriarchal medical establishment, particularly by the likes of Charcot, the founder of modern neurology, whose public demonstrations of his hypnotherapeutic skills with female patients. they became a kind of showman and vulnerable women reduced to objects of spectacle.
“When you see paintings from the period, it’s God, surrounded by admiring men in tuxedos,” says Laurent. “And then in the middle there is a half-naked woman who falls to the ground and everyone is watching her. I don’t know if I can respect someone who didn’t respect all those women who somehow gave their bodies for research. “
The film’s heroine, Eugénie (Lou de Laâge), is subjected to grotesquely invasive gynecological examinations and repeatedly immersed in ice baths in what looks like water torture, rather than what Charcot devised: hydrotherapy to cure her of hysterical symptoms. . “They were like playing with dolls,” says Laurent.
That said, Laurent confesses that the ice baths in the film were cellulose and the water got hot, despite the insistence of its protagonist. “I wanted to do the full method and really go for an ice bath. I didn’t think I would add anything. “
Casting de Laâge for the role is as inspired as Tarantino gave Laurent his Hollywood break 12 years ago. “She is my muse.” Why? “I am moved by her beauty and it moves me because she really doesn’t know how beautiful she is. She doesn’t know! She doesn’t know its power and how cinematic it is. She is a beautiful human being too. I’m making movies and the more I watch the world fall apart, the less tolerance I have for complaining about actors. Lou doesn’t complain. “
In the film, Laurent herself plays Geneviève, the head nurse who mutates from the Gallic equivalent of Nurse Ratched into something like Chief Bromden. “She is so rigid and rational and so self-assured. She refuses to serve the doctors. She doesn’t even see that she is humiliated every day and dedicated her life to that. “
Does the film have any resonance with the current state of women? “There is still a lot of work to do. In India, a woman is raped every three seconds. In so many countries, women’s rights do not exist. In the US, those young gay men who are brought to those centers. “Laurent refers to the behavior modification facilities, also known as tough love or nature camps for” troubled teens, “that were charged. Last year in a documentary film by Paris Hilton. Laurent sees these phenomena as a sign that the world he describes in his film is not only of historical interest. “It’s so fucking weird how we’re going backwards. Things feel dangerous right now. It’s strange to watch how we make revolutions, how we want to be different, and how we go totally crazy in other ways. We know how to improve and it is so strange to me that we go back and go back to something that was not bearable. “
Here’s a biopic about plastic surgery pioneer Suzanne Noël. “Do you know her? My God, you’re going to freak out! She’s mind-blowing! She fixed the broken faces of WWI and then fixed the faces of the Jewish prisoners who were beaten by the Gestapo. She is brilliant. She invented how to remove tattoos from [survivors of Nazi concentration] camps. He died in total silence. How can a woman like her not be famous? “
But Laurent insists his latest project will not be, unlike The Mad Women’s Ball, an indictment against patriarchy. “I can’t wait to put that on screen because there is something joyous about a strong woman, but one who is supported by men and men are not excluded. I’m tired of pit [ditch] We put between women and men sometimes and I want to show something else. “What?” We need you and you need us.
Mad Women’s Dance is on Amazon Prime since September 17