It’s a film that begins rather well, in the strangeness of scenes where we don’t understand everything, as is often the case with Arnaud des Pallières, author of experimental essays – Drancy Avenir (1997), Poussières d’Amérique (2011). ) – and historical dramas ( Michael Kohlhaas , 2013), etc. Captives , his latest feature-length fiction film, very documented, opens with the beautiful, tired face of a woman, who is unceremoniously taken behind the gates of an institution. Fanni (Mélanie Thierry) is stripped of her clothes, then subjected to an intrusive interrogation by a sort of governess whose headdress accentuates the severity of the features (Marina Foïs, almost unrecognizable), and whom everyone calls Customs.
We are in 1894, at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, the day after the death of Professor Charcot (1825-1893), known for his work on “female hysteria” and his hypnosis sessions supposed to detect it. the symptoms – he was played by Vincent Lindon in Augustine (2012), by Alice Winocour.
Officially, Fanni presents herself as a simple servant, without work. Later, she will explain to her comrades in misfortune that she leads a bourgeois life and was interned solely to try to find her mother, herself imprisoned for many years, under a falsified identity. The first part of the film is part of the clandestine investigation carried out by the heroine, while Customs and the general supervisor, Marguerite Bottard, known as Bobotte (Josiane Balasko), watch for the slightest misstep.
The atmosphere is all the more electric as the “ball of madwomen” approaches – already chronicled in the film of the same name by Mélanie Laurent, released in 2021 on Amazon – to which high society will flock. Rehearsals begin, and it is in the midst of this excitement that Fanni will find some margins of freedom, to delve into the archives, ask questions here and there.
Brochure of French stars
Fanni makes connections, tries to integrate, which allows the viewer to discover a gallery of portraits of unfortunate people, young or old, deprived of their freedom for false reasons. There is also this great lady, a renowned pianist (Carole Bouquet), who desperately tries to argue that her family got rid of her for inheritance reasons.
The line-up of French cinema stars, to which we must add Yolande Moreau, coexists rather well with non-professional actresses, some of whom are disabled. But we would do without a few shocking, grimacing scenes, which ring false, aimed at “reconstructing” acts of madness as well as the violent atmosphere of the place.
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