Taking an actual case as source material, director Alice Winocour's Augustine tells the story of neurologist Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and the young woman who came to be his most famous patient. The film casts back to 19th century France, before Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis had taken the world of neurology by storm, and it was still very much in vogue to couch women’s mental illness in terms of “hysteria”.
After an uneducated maid named Augustine (Soko), suffers a seizure that paralyzes the right side of her body, she is sent to Pitié-Salpêtriere, an all-female psychiatric hospital. Dr. Charcot (Vincent Lindon) takes a keen interest in Augustine when he witnesses one of her seizures, episodes from which the girl appears to derive intense sexual pleasure. With her singular symptoms and exceptional beauty, Augustine quickly becomes Charcot’s prize subject, a fact that quietly torments his wife (Chiara Mastroianni).
As Augustine’s star continues to rise, she begins to discover the power that comes with her condition. The roles of patient and doctor are soon called into question, and the world of the film moves into orbit around Augustine with each passing frame. Soko, who was known in France first as a singer, delivers a frank, intense performance of the maid-turned-case study. Her Augustine moves through the film's stark, startling landscape with a magnetism that is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Rather than demonize the doctors who were wont to dismiss their female patients as hysterical and leave it at that, Winocour focuses on the particular relationship between Charcot and Augustine. With carefully measured tension and unblinking clarity, Augustine captivates, alarms, and excites in turn.
Photo via MusicBoxFilms.com