As an insight into 18th-century medical practices, Mademoiselle Paradis is an intriguing and informative history lesson. As a film, however, it’s less of a success, veering between tepid and manic. Based on the true story of Resi Paradis (Maria Dragus), a blind woman in Vienna who in 1777 had her eyesight restored by the unconventional Doctor Mesmer (Striesow), it’s at its best in its exploration of his healing techniques.
To modern eyes, it’s pure quackery, using an “invisible magnetic fluid” to solve problems, but, bizarrely, it seems to work. Mesmer’s procedures are memorable both visually and in the well-acted histrionics they inspire in his patients. Dragus has a tough role, and she captures Resi’s terror and anguish in all their howling discomfort, as well as her gradual warming to her doctor and chambermaid.
That said, the film moves rather slowly which, combined with the story’s simplicity, means it often feels flat. There are spikily angry looks at the misogyny of the time that so exacerbate Resi’s condition, but they are too few and far between to land as impactfully as they could. In the last 20 minutes, Kathrin Resetarits’ script abruptly introduces a bevy of new plot strands, all of which are left hanging by the end, and pull focus and power away from the main event.
Mademoiselle Paradis looks great, festooned with ridiculous wigs and fancy, dandy-ish outfits. After the treatments start working, director Barbara Albert occasionally takes us behind Resi’s eyes to see the world as she does, and the greyed-out blur comes as a disconcerting contrast to the bright clarity of most of the film.
These individual elements end up impressing more than the whole of Mademoiselle Paradis, which can never quite find one single hook to really bring you into its otherwise well-realised world.
CAST: Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, Lukas Miko, Katja Kolm, Maresi Riegne
DIRECTOR: Barbara Albert
WRITER: Kathrin Resetarits
SYNOPSIS: The true story of the relationship between a blind 18th-century Viennese pianist and the controversial physician who worked to restore her sight: Dr. Franz Mesmer.