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This psychologically heavy 'hysteria' period melodrama is intriguing, if maybe not as investigative as it could be...
Music Box / 102 Minutes / 2012 / Unrated / Street Date: September 17, 2013
It’s unfortunate for our title character in Augustine that her quite serious illness is also what makes her such an entertaining draw to the Parisian elite. Alice Winocour’s Augustine is an attempt to come to terms with the way women with mental illness (or, rather, ‘hysteria’) were dealt with a hundred years ago or so: she wants to figure out how someone like Augustine could be paraded for giggles and fun, while also considering the idea that this woman enjoyed her newfound status as rock star to the money crowd.
Very early in the film, Augustine (Soko) is brought into a Parisian facility after suffering bouts of numbness and spasms, which quickly leads to her being admitted into the place full-time. But there’s an enigmatic draw to one Dr. Charcot (Vincent Lindon) that complicates matters. He helps Augustine with her situation, of course, but her flits of ‘hysteria’ begin evolving and transforming in such a way that it seems as though there’s more going on than meets the eye.
Winocour brings to Augustine an old-fashioned charm and serenity that makes it perfectly entertaining as a straightforward period piece, but as the movie reaches its final moments, one is left wondering what the whole affair is all about. Augustine as a character absolutely manifests a number of often conflicting qualities, but Winocour’s film seems lax to comment on them in any significant way. Augustine as a film is heavy with ideas and context, but it stays surface-level, stubbornly refusing to plumb the depths of its murky, complex waters.