Directed by Alice Winocour
Ms. Hen came to watch this film by accident, because she thought an author she liked was involved with it. She’s still not sure that he was. But she was glad she watched this film because it is exactly what she likes, since it's about a young woman who is mad.
Augustine is a kitchen maid until she has a seizure in the middle of serving dinner to a group of people and she dramatically knocks the dinner on the floor by pulling off the tablecloth when she starts to shake and twitch. She becomes paralyzed in her right side. The next day, she is taken to the hospital by a fellow maid, and she is locked away. The first scene in the hospital is the most dramatic: she is sitting in the dining room surrounded by people screaming and throwing food every which way.
The hospital where Augustine stays specializes in women’s hysteria, or sexual obsession and repression. Dr. Jean Martin Charcot is the leading specialist in hysteria in France at that time, in 1885. This film was based on a true story. Augustine becomes Dr. Charcot’s star patient and receives hypnotism and performs for audiences of doctors who want to learn about the illness.
Ms. Hen enjoyed this film, but the lighting was very dark. It reminded her of paintings by Rembrandt that are painted with a black background. She realized that in the nineteenth century there was no electricity, and the lighting in this film is probably realistic to the time. It was hard for Ms. Hen to get her eyes adjusted to the lighting, but once she did, it was fine.
Another aspect of this film that confused Ms. Hen was that the hospital did not seem like a typical psychiatric hospital in the nineteenth century. Ms, Hen thought the doctors were too kind to the patients for the film to be realistic. There was some poking and prodding of Augustine when she was naked, but for the most part, the patients didn’t seem like they were suffering that much and were not being degraded enough for Ms. Hen to believe that this was an authentic portrayal of a psychiatric hospital in nineteenth century France. Ms. Hen would expect the conditions to be much more unpleasant that what the film showed.
A scene in the middle of the film in which Augustine was told to behead a hen was a pivotal point in the story. The hen is shown running around the yard without its head, and Augustine faints. When she arises, her left side is paralyzed and her left hand is in a claw next to her body. Ms. Hen especially liked that it was killing the hen that paralyzed Augustine on the other side of her body because it proves that hens have the power to change humans. Ms. Hen has always known this is true, but this scene reinforces that idea.
There were several things that Ms. Hen didn’t like about this film, but those didn’t detract her from enjoying it. She didn’t like the way the doctor treated Augustine, but since it was based on a true story, she knew that it was most likely true. Augustine is a woman that will go after what she wants, and Ms. Hen is sure that she ended up surviving.
If you’re afraid of dark films, meaning lighting and subject matter, Ms. Hen does not recommend this to you. But if you have a penchant for stories of madness and despair, Ms. Hen thinks you will enjoy this. Ms. Hen gives this film four feathers up.