was deeply influenced by his former teacher, Jean-Martin Charcot, even naming
his son after the French neurologist.
What did Charcot’s patients think of the man dubbed the “Napoleon of Neuroses?” That is the whole revisionist question asked
throughout Alice Winocour’s Augustine (trailer here), which opens this
Friday at Film Forum.
is known about the mysterious young servant girl called “Augustine,” beyond the
fact she was “hysterical.” That was the official blanket term covering a wide
range of neurological and psychological disorders. In Belle Époque France, it was considered
almost entirely a female phenomenon—hence Dr. Charcot’s clinic exclusively
catered to women.
is mostly likely suffering from some form of schizophrenia. Viewers soon suspect good old fashioned
Victorian repression is complicating her diagnosis. Unfortunately, there are no strict Freudians
in the house. However, Dr. Charcot might
have an inkling of what troubles the woman.
Through hypnosis he recreates her spectacular fits during his regular
public lecture series. Obviously, this
is wildly inappropriate according to contemporary standards of medical ethics. While they were considered good public
relations outreach for Dr. Charcot’s research at the time, Winocour unambiguously
and repeatedly emphasizes their exploitative aspects.
Winocour’s Augustine plays like a
feminist variation on Truffaut’s The Wild
Child, driving home its points at every possible opportunity. Yes, Charcot is using Augustine. We so get it.
When Augustine starts using her femininity jujitsu-like against Charcot,
the film finally jumps le shark.
all its psychosexual power games, Augustine
is bizarrely slow going. Winocour
nicely sets the scene, but is content to leave viewers stewing in it. Arguably, Vincent Lindon’s performance as Dr.
Charcot is too good for Winocour’s purposes, subtly expressing the doubts and
misgivings that humanize the Emperor of hysteria. Conversely, Soko (evidently well known within
the French electronica scene) brings a rather pedestrian presence to the film
as the ostensible wild child title character.
We never get a sense of danger from her, only an exterior twitchiness,
even during her big moments of empowerment.
Costume designer Pascaline Chavanne and
production designer Arnaud De Moléron’s team nicely recreate the period
details, but Winocour never delves below the surface level. As a result, Augustine is conspicuously manipulative, stacking the deck in plain
viewer sight. While the subject matter
is intriguing, the execution lacks nuance and verve. For diehard Francophiles, it opens this
Friday (5/17) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: French Cinema, Jean-Martin Charcot, Vincent Lindon