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Slow-moving ‘Augustine’ leaves questions unanswered

By Mick LaSalle
San Francisco Chronicle

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    ‘Augustine’

    C- CAST: Vincent Lindon, Soko, Chiara Mastroianni, Olivier Rabourdin.

    WRITER-DIRECTOR: Alice Winocour.

    RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes. (In French with English subtitles.)

    RATING: Not rated.



“Augustine” is the true story of a young kitchen maid in 19th-century France who was stricken by a strange, unexplainable paralysis. And it’s about the treatment she received from Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist who made many discoveries in his field.

Alas, the Augustine case was not his finest hour. It triggered his preoccupation with the field of “hysteria,” a catchall term used to describe many primarily female ailments. Hysteria became a 19th-century obsession. The condition has been largely debunked by modern medical science.

Give Charcot credit for one thing, though. He figured out what was wrong with Augustine.

In the film, she comes into his clinic, having had seizures and suffering from paralysis, symptoms which would alarm anybody else, and he pretty much intuits that her condition is psychological. None of this is spoken, but we can infer this from the course of treatment he prescribes, which mainly consists of hypnosis, which induces seizures.

Interestingly, these seizures are sexual in nature and involve the young woman masturbating and shrieking. Sometimes other doctors are present. Sometimes they’re all in a gallery, watching closely. Too bad nobody serves drinks.

“Augustine” is somewhat frustrating to watch because everyone in it is so close-mouthed. As the doctor, Vincent Lindon doesn’t get to say much. He just watches morosely and then writes reports, while sitting there smoking. Lindon has never played a nonsmoking medical doctor, although this movie is set in the 19th century, so for once, he has an excuse.

All the interesting questions are never answered. Is Charcot a quack? Is he being lured into quasi-quackdom by a wholesome feeling for Augustine? Is Augustine faking it? And if she is, is she faking it from the beginning, or does she become a faker somewhere along the line?

That the film raises interesting questions may be good enough, except that, while the movie goes about denying us information we want, it gives us details we don’t need. “Augustine” churns slowly and doesn’t make for compelling viewing.

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