Based on true events from the 19th Century, this French film is about a house servant named Augustine. She has some sort of seizure in the middle of dinner one night, and is then committed to a hospital. She is diagnosed with Hysteria. She continues to have these attacks, but they become somewhat more sexual, as she begins touching herself during these “episodes”. Neurologist Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot becomes fascinated with her (professionally) as he begins to treat her using hypnosis. But the more he treats her, Augustine becomes infatuated with her doctor. Charcot is happily married and has no intention of breaking his marriage, but the more he sees Augustine, the more he becomes tempted by her sexual desire.
I knew nothing about this movie going into it, so imagine my surprise when I found out that this was a sexy movie. lol. But seriously, the movie is pretty good. The pre-title sequence when Augustine has her first attack is actually pretty scary, almost like she was possessed. And before you can ask yourself “what the fuck just happened?”, the titles appear on the screen. Definitely grabs the viewer.
But besides that scene, the whole movie is also engaging. I was genuinely caring for Augustine as she was frightened about what was happening to her. The relationship between her and Charcot is one of those that becomes almost unbearable to watch. In a good way. Nothing is ever said or spoken of, but you can tell that these two want each other. The more involved they become in the treatment, the higher the sexual tension becomes. All of this is done through looks and glances, not words. And that’s definitely credited to the actors. I got to a point in the movie where I was shouting at the screen, “Just fuck her already!”, because things were just getting so repressed I could hardly contain myself. That means the movie was effective. It does have a similar subject matter to last year’s movie HYSTERIA, but while that one was lighthearted and humorous, this one is dour and intense.
The acting by the 2 leads is exceptional. Vincent London as Charcot plays the Doctor as a cold and calculated professional. He would never do anything as idiotic as getting involved with his patients. But he finds himself drawn to Augustine, and he hates himself for it. London is very good here. But the stand out is French Pop star Soko as the title character. She gives an outstanding Oscar worthy performance. I like how she’s not an ultra skinny supermodel. She’s got curves and no makeup on….. which means I found her very attractive. That’s just my taste. Her seizures are so intense, and the actress really goes all the way with them as she convulses all over the floor while doing sexy moaning. In most of the other scenes though, she doesn’t say a whole lot. She acts with her face, which isn’t so easy to do. She conveys every emotion with graceful expertise. I also love it when actors aren’t afraid to not be glamorous. Here, Soko wears no make-up, doesn’t shave under arms and even spends half the movie with one of her eyes taped shut (do to paralysis). It’s a bold move that pays off in spades.
Making her directorial debut here is Alice Wincour, and she does a fine job. What I appreciated most about the direction was how authentic and natural everything felt. The sets and costumes aren’t made to be perfectly bright and colorful. It’s much more down to earth and realistic. The colors are muted, the sets have some wear on them, and the costumes are ragged. Many films set in the 19th century can’t resist the desire to glamorize the period, but in AUGUSTINE, the technical crew resists the temptation and presents things most likely how they were. It seems rooted in reality as opposed to fantasy. Adding to that, the photography uses mostly natural light. The night scenes are very darkly lit. And since there was no electricity back then, all of the interior night shots are lit by candlelight. This also added to the haunting and seductive nature of the story. If there’s anything negative to say about the movie, is that things are left a little too ambiguous. There are a lot of questions at the end. That might bug some people, but I didn’t mind it too much.
This movie isn’t exactly a blockbuster, obviously. But it’s a wonderful alternative to the noisy Hollywood film. It’s a movie filled with passion, desire and temptation. It features 2 fantastic performances, including a breakout role from Soko. If you liked sexy dramas like THE PIANO, than I would say give this one a whirl. It’s well done movie! ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Not rated but contains full frontal female nudity, and strong sexual content. Definitely would get an R rating.
– Running time: 1hr 41min.