Augustine (Soko) is a maid in the late 19th century in Paris. When she suffers from a kind of epileptic episode one night, she heads to the hospital and is promptly kept there and diagnosed with hysteria. When Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon) becomes aware of her case, he sees an opportunity to prove the effectiveness of his hysteria-treatment through hypnosis and so secure financial backing for his research.
Augustine was a really excellent movie, with a fantastic cast and an interesting story critically told. Plus, it looked really good. Definitely one of the highlights of the Viennale for me.
It’s not that long ago that I saw Hysteria, which treats a similar subject matter – but it’s pretty amazing how different these two movies are. Where Hysteria is all fun, fluff and romcom, Augustine is a much darker, critical and layered take. It doesn’t just take the cheap shots at the hysteria phenomenon and it doesn’t show Augustine herself only as the victims of her times. It is clear that there is something wrong with Augustine. (I would have loved to get an explanation of what the matter was, since hysteria as a diagnosis in that sense is utter bull.) And it is clear that Augustine uses that to her advantage as well.
Despite that ambiguity, or maybe because of it, the film stands as a strong indictment against these medical practices. When Charcot brings out Augustine, triggers an episode to show her off like a circus monkey and the (entirely male) audience applauds him for it, the outrageousness of the situation doesn’t need to be discussed. It’s obvious.
Soko – who is actually a singer rather than an actress – is absolutely perfect in the role. The same goes for Vincent Lindon. The two of them together really are an explosive mix, especially when they can work with such a strong, sharp script.
And Alice Winocour makes it all look so easy. This is her first feature film, for crying out loud, and it all comes together beautifully (also because the cinematography is pretty damn great). I’ll definitely be watching out for whatever she does next.