Augustine (the lead character in my film) really existed. She was the favorite patient of Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot, and was a medical case who was the photographed and studied by many doctors. She was the star of his Tuesday lessons where her very violent sexual fits were displayed in front of men from the high Parisian society, as if she were in a peep show. And (as you will see in the film) she did escape from the hospital dressed as a man.
I decided to make this film because I wanted to tell a story of a liberation. Augustine liberates herself from her oppression.
The film depicts the way men look at women: we are mysterious guinea pigs at the beginning and objects of desire at the end. I wonder, has this mix of fear and desire in the way men look at women disappeared? I doubt it. And to me, in many ways the mystery of hysteria is a mirror for our present times.
Alice Winocour is the writer and director of Augustine which opens today in NY and LA. The film was nominated for the 2013 César for Best First Feature.
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot, the 19th century founder of modern neurology - whom Sigmund Freud studied under - and his star teenage patient, the beautiful illiterate kitchen maid Augustine, prone to spectacular and inexplicable fits of "hysteria." After suffering a seizure which leaves her paralyzed on her right side,19-year-old Augustine (27 year-old recording artist-actress Soko in a break out performance), is shipped off to Paris' all female psychiatric hospital Pitie-Salpetriere which specializes in detecting the then-fashionable ailment of 'hysteria'. Augustine captures the attention of Doctor Charcot (Vincent Lindon, Mademoiselle Chambon, Welcome) after a seizure which appears to give her intense physical pleasure. Intrigued, he begins using her as his principal subject, hypnotizing her in lecture halls as she displays her unusual fits. Dr. Charcot, whose methodology was known for its theatrical panache, uses Augustine to demonstrate his theories regarding madness and neurosis to a riveted audience of all-male physicians. They gaze upon her from on high, in the medical "theatre" in which his famed presentations transpire. As Dr. Charcot and Augustine's relationship continues, the lines between doctor and patient start to blur….