Toronto 2017: Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis

On Film / The Daily — Sep 17, 2017

“A film that would make a fine double bill with either Jessica Hausner’s Amour fou or David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis is a subtle and intelligent film about the historical crisis of female subjectivity and the various men who attempt to control that emerging identity,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. “At the height of Habsburg Austria, Mlle. Theresa Paradis (Maria Dragus) is a blind harpsichord prodigy, a problem that her arriviste aristocrat parents do not quite know how to solve. Her father (Lukas Miko) wants her to cultivate her talent, presuming there is wealth and fame to be gained from it. Meanwhile, her mother (Katja Kolm) finds Theresa’s swaying and rolling of eyes to be unattractive, and wishes that Resi could just be another ‘normal,’ sighted girl.”

Christopher Schobert, writing for the Playlist, finds it all “almost too intoxicatingly strange to believe. Viewers mostly unfamiliar with the character’s story will likely rush to the internet for factual confirmation, and discovering that the woman mostly referred to on-screen as Therese really did recover her sight with the help of controversial physician Dr. Franz Mesmer [Devid Striesow] makes Albert’s achievement seem even greater.”

“There is, however, a catch,” notes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “After the titular protagonist has regained her eyesight, her tinkling talents start to diminish rapidly. This adaptation of Alissa Walser's novel Mesmerized is an inquisitive, curious, and gorgeously accoutered period piece about science, the senses and the position of women in Mozart-era Austria. But it might have a thing or two too many on the brain to finally delve very deeply into each of its themes.”

Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema: “A commanding supporting cast awash in the ocher and amber glow of DP Christine A. Maier’s frames make Albert’s achievement even more impressive, each stuck in their bitchy, self-obsessed bubbles (look for Susanne Wuest of Goodnight Mommy, who appears with her own significant ailments and insanely styled hair as one of Mesmer’s patients). But it is Dragus who remains the beating heart of Mademoiselle Paradis.

“Costume designer Veronika Albert deserves special mention for the fabrics and finery used to denote the way fashion was a measure of status in 18th century Vienna,” notes Allan Hunter for Screen. “Mesmer sports a natty purple ensemble festooned with roses, and Maria’s most elaborate frock is like a miniature garden in bloom.”

More from Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa, where he also interviews Albert, as does Lyra H. for Women and Hollywood.

Update, 9/21: For Luke Gorham at In Review Online, “Mademoiselle Paradis is a satisfyingly left-of-center trifle, indulging the stylistic pomposity of this society while also ruthlessly critiquing it.”

Update, 9/24: Stephen Saito talks with Albert “about freeing herself with a rare directorial outing that she didn’t write herself, as well as the contemporary resonance of Mademoiselle Paradis and finding her remarkable lead actress.”

Updates, 9/27: Variety’s Guy Lodge finds “echoes here of [Jessica] Hausner’s Amour Fou with its lightly tongue-in-cheek period stateliness—it comes as no surprise that the films share a brilliant production designer in Katharina Wöppermann, whose hyper-ornate furnishings and finishes here evoke the false, stifling politesse of Rococo Vienna. . . . Even in more peaceful moments, Dragus conveys the sense of a woman genuinely overwhelmed by her own senses. That awareness is elegantly carried over into Albert’s filmmaking: in the subtle distortions of the sound design, or the fine intrusions of sunlight and shadow on Christine A. Meier’s rigorously composed widescreen lensing.”

“There were times when I’ve thought that I didn’t want to work with images anymore because there are so many that it makes me sick,” Albert tells Sonia Shechet Epstein at Sloan Science & Film.

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