May 10, 2013

Interview with Alice Winocour

Below is my video interview with French writer-director Alice Winocour in which she discusses Augustine, her sublime cinematic debut. The narrative film, which will open at New York City’s Film Forum on May 17th, is based on the life of the eponymous 19th century maid. As Ms. Winocour explains at the start of the interview, Augustine’s fits led her to be admitted to Salpêtrière, then an asylum in which doctors experimented with impunity on their female patients, most of whom were diagnosed with “hysteria.”

Augustine became the patient of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, often credited as the founder of the discipline of neurology. (Ms. Winocour refers to Charcot's celebrated student, Sigmund Freud, who named his first son Jean-Martin.) She soon became the star among his hysteria patients, and was hypnotized onstage to induce a fit, ostensibly for the purposes of studying the malady.

In writing her screenplay, Ms. Winocour drew upon Dr. Charcot’s notes, which included a photographic record, but it is her incisive analysis of the period, and of “hysteria” in Victorian-era France, that distinguishes the film. And, in imagining the doctor-patient relationship from Augustine’s perspective, Ms. Winocour adopts a rather unique point of view in a genre where the male voice of authority is too often felt.

My review of the film appears in the Spring issue of Cineaste, which will be on newsstands this month.