Augustine, the debut of writer-director Alice Winocour, is a provocative drama told in an oppressively bland style. Loosely based on a true story, the movie centers on the unusual doctor-patient relationship between Professor Jean-Martin Charcot, the 19th century French neurologist whose work and research heavily influenced Sigmund Freud, and the eponymous young woman (played by French pop singer Soko), a housemaid who suffers from violent seizures.
When one particularly bad attack leaves her right eye permanently shut, Augustine is institutionalized in an all-female hospital, where most of the patients’ problems are diagnosed under the catch-all umbrella of hysteria. Initially, Charcot treats his new patient brusquely, remaining as cool and distant with her as he is with the other women in the facility. But he gradually becomes more intrigued by Augustine’s affliction and starts hypnotizing her in front of other doctors and potential financial donors, triggering her violent episodes that become increasingly sexual until she’s practically masturbating in front of a group of men while unconscious.
Strongly reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Augustine gradually becomes an unusual love story between Charcot, who is married but cannot help his growing sexual attraction to his patient, and Augustine, who doesn’t fully comprehend what is happening to her but knows her case might provide an escape from her lower working-class life. The premise is intriguing, but the movie has been shot in the most drab manner possible, with a dull pallette of browns and blacks and opaque performances that only occasionally convey what the characters are thinking. Psych majors and doctors interested in history may find something to like here. But to the casual viewer, Augustine is a well-intentioned drag.
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Soko, Chiara Mastroianni, Olivier Rabourdin.
Writer-director: Alice Winocour.
Producers: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisne.
A Music Box Films release. Running time: 102 minutes. Nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In French with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade: Tower, Cosford Cinema; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Lake Worth, Delray.