MRR Review: "Augustine"

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A look at the relationship between pioneering 19th century French neurologist Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and his star teenage patient, a kitchen maid who is left partially paralyzed after a seizure
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MRR Review: "Augustine"

-- Rating: Not Yet Rated
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Directed by: Alice Winocour
Genre: Drama

French director Alice Winocour's debut film "Augustine" is based on the true story of Jean-Martin Charcot, a 19th-century French neurologist, and his patient Augustine. Their story is compelling to viewers, not just because Charcot was an influential teacher in the lives of eminent professionals like William James and Sigmund Freud, but also because he was an extremely complicated individual. The romance that evolved from Charcot and Augustine's relationship was complex and dark. Winocour captures their story almost perfectly, and the result is a film that's compelling on historical, social, and artistic levels.

Played by Vincent Lidon, Charcot is often shown sucking down cigarettes late at night as he investigates the folds and intricacies of brain tissue. During the day, Charcot is often shown with his wife who's concerned about how his work will look to their social circles. Although many heralded his work as modern and pioneering, others characterized it as monstrous, and Charcot was frequently considered to be a charlatan. The reception of his work based on the social mores of the time is one of the most compelling aspects of this film from a historical perspective. Early in the film, the director takes these sentiments and the tension in Charcot's marriage to set the scene and to define Charcot's character.

Rather than focusing solely on Charcot, the story revolves primarily around his relationship with a patient named Augustine. Augustine comes to Charcot for help after having a seizure, and over time, she becomes his most important patient. The storyline that revolves around their relationship is at once erotic, powerful, and interesting.

Charcot makes Augustine into a special case, and he recruits her to become a part of his public demonstrations. In front of mostly male audiences, Charcot works with his patient to help her get past her hysteria. In these scenes, he hypnotizes her in front of crowds while she is naked. The effect of these demonstrations is slightly erotic and inappropriate by today's medical standards, but the demonstrations were a critical part of Charcot's work. Without these demonstrations, he would have been unable to illicit or maintain funding, and he continued them not for the lusty applause he frequently received from audience members, but because he truly thought he was on the brink of discovering something. He was obsessed with figuring out the roots and causes of hysteria, and he was sure these demonstrations and his private work with Augustine were leading him in the right direction.

As Charcot beginss to fall for Augustine, the erotic scenes that result may remind the viewer of "The Story of O," or they may even bring to mind the power plays that take place in "Fifty Shades of Grey." Regardless of what the viewer thinks while watching these scenes, it's easy to see that "Augustine" is so much more than just the story of a predator and his prey.

Instead, the film is about the idea of transference. This theme translates well into contemporary society, and it helps make this period film compelling for modern audiences, many of whom have sat on a psychologist's couch at some point in their lives. Because the tale chronicles the story of a love affair between a doctor and his patient, it essentially chronicles an unethical love story.

The relationship that evolves between the doctor and his patient might not be appropriate under the conventional rules that govern doctor-patient relationships, but in spite of that, the relationship begins to inform the therapy itself. At the beginning of the relationship, it seems like Charcot is definitely the predator, but by the end of the film, his superiority doesn't seem as certain. By the end of the film, the patient has become stronger, and she seems to almost fight back. This theme is repeated in several other films like "The Master" and "A Dangerous Method," both of which also investigate the complexities of doctor-patient romance.

"Augustine" is in French with English subtitles, and it's the perfect film for viewers who like compelling stories, great directing, and subtle acting. Although it can be tempting to describe the film in regard to how it portrays Charcot, it truly is the story of Augustine. Watching her move from a position of fear and uncertainty to one of self-awareness is almost magical. Augustine is played by Soko, a young French singer and actress, and her subtle style is perfect for this role. Captivating and intriguing, "Augustine" is a must-see for foreign film lovers.

Rating 3 out of 5