The period drama by Alice Winocour tells the real-life story of a pioneering 19th century neurologist and his 'star' teenage patient
In 1890s France, a 19-year-old kitchen maid named Augustine (Soko) suffers a grand mal seizure while serving at a dinner hosted by her employers. They pack her off to the Salepêtrière Hospital, an imposing all-female facility in Paris that specialized in the little understood disease called “hysteria” that had a variety of mental as well as physical symptoms. The facility’s most senior physician, Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon), takes an interest in the young girl and, in order to secure some much-needed funds for his institution, starts grooming Augustine for lecture-hall demonstrations of her spectacular fits. The demonstrations impress potential funders and are reviewed in the press like theatrical performances. Though illiterate, Augustine is savvy enough to understand her place in Charcot’s career goals and the two soon begin a back-and-forth dance where it’s not always clear who is in control. We now know that some of Charcot's research was a bit misguided, but he was still a pivotal figure in the treatment of such maladies and his work had a major impact on a young Sigmund Freud who studied with him for a time. As for the real-life Augustine, she walked out of Salepêtrière one day, disguised in men’s clothing, and was never heard from again.
25-year-old singer/songwriter Soko, formerly known as Stéphanie Sokolinski, gives a remarkable performance as Dr. Charcot’s most famous patient. She was nominated for a César in 2010 for her performance in “In the Beginning,” with François Cluzet and Gerard Depardieu, and has received major acclaim for her powerful role in “Augustine,” directed by Alice Winocour and co-starring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. I talked to Soko in Los Angeles where she was putting the finishing touches on her new album which will be released later this year.
MSN Movies: I was blown away by your performance in this film. I can’t imagine anyone else but you in that role.
Soko: That’s what I kept saying to them!
I was familiar with your work as a singer/songwriter but didn’t even realize you were an actress, too. How did you end up in this film?
My agent sent me the script very unofficially. I didn’t even want to read it because I was making my album and was very focused on doing that. I feel very schizophrenic if I start mixing different parts of my life. But when I finally read the script I flipped out and thought, “This is the role of my life! No one else will be able to do it as well as I can!” Believe me, I’m not usually so self-confident but I was just so sure I could do it.
Were there many other actresses vying for the part?
Oh, yes! And they didn’t even want to see any professional actresses—they were convinced that they needed to find an unknown face. I said, “What are you talking about, I’m completely unknown!” But they said, “No, not you!” And for like eight months, my agent would call every week and ask if they’d found someone. When they said no, he’d say, “Can you please let Soko audition?”
Oh, you hadn’t even auditioned in all that time?
No, I had just read the script and was obsessed with it. I was having dreams about Augustine and felt that I really, really, really had to play her. But they just refused to see me. And so finally, after seeing like 800 girls, they finally agreed to let me come to Paris to audition. And it obviously went really well because I got the part!
Did you spend much time researching the real Augustine?
No, Alice forbade me to.
I’ve seen photos of her and it’s crazy how much you actually look like her.
Alice had decided that physical appearance wasn’t going to be a factor in the casting. She was looking for someone who was super wild but also shy, strong and weak at the same time, someone who could be both the victim and the master. She totally removed from her head what Augustine looked like but in the end when we were looking at photos, she kept saying, “Oh my God, you totally look like her!”
I think the topic of “hysteria” is so fascinating. On the one hand, at least Charcot was believing these women, he wasn’t accusing them of being witches or anything like that. On the other hand, it seemed like “hysteria” became an umbrella term that was often used to keep women in their place. Interesting that this diagnosis no longer exists.
It has evolved into different shapes. All of those women who are interviewed on camera in the film are real mental illness patients and those are all their real stories. Alice interviewed so many girls and wanted to see how these things are translated today. Most of the symptoms are things like anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation.
Do they now think that with patients like Augustine that it wasn’t something genetic as much as the result of some horrible trauma in her life?
The “fits” that your character has are amazing to watch. Was that part of your audition process?
They definitely asked me to have a fit! I think most of the girls were jut screaming their lungs out and totally forgot like the sexual aspect of it but I was like touching myself all over and pulling at my skirt and they were like, “Okay, she’s not scared of that part of the story!”
When you were doing those scenes, were they meticulously choreographed, or were you just letting go in those moments and going to a different place?
'Star Trek Into Darkness' beams to the top of the pack
J.J. Abrams’ second entry in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise had no trouble taking a huge lead in the North American box office this weekend. But even with a whopping $70M haul during its first three days, studio execs seemed disappointed that the new film didn’t have bigger numbers, and critics were hotly divided over the film’s merits. But there has to be rejoicing at Paramount that the younger Kirk, Spock, and gang brought in more than twice of what Tony Stark managed to earn in his film's third week.
“Star Trek Into Darkness,” the #1 film, earned $70.5M (at 3,868 theaters) proving that the franchise is anything but dead, despite some dire predictions by Trekkies who are less than ecstatic about the latest adventure by the Enterprise crew. The #2 film, “Iron Man 3,” was still able to amass $35.1M in its third week (at 4,237 theaters) for a new domestic total of $337M. Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” at #3, added $23.4M (at 3,550 theaters) to its now $90.1M domestic gross. Those top three films are miles ahead of the rest of the movies on our list. The #4 film, “Pain and Gain,” pulled in only $3.1M (at 2,429 theaters) while “The Croods,” at #5, made $2.75M (at 2,373 theaters) for a new domestic total of $176.7M.
The Jackie Robinson drama “42” slipped to #6 in its sixth week, earning $2.73M (at 2,380 theaters) for a domestic gross of $88.7M. At #7, Tom Cruise’s “Oblivion,” earned $2.2M (at 2,077 theaters) and a new domestic total of $85.5M. “Mud” stayed put at #8 this week, earning $2.16M (at only 960 theaters) while “Tyler Perry Presents Peeples” plummeted to #9, with $2.15M in ticket sales (at 2,041 theaters). At #10, “The Big Wedding” brought in $1.1M (at 1,442 theaters) for a domestic total of $20.1M in its fourth week.
As we move closer to summer blockbuster time, we’ll see three big movies open next weekend: the Wolfpack returns to Las Vegas for more crazy antics in “The Hangover Part III,” a motley group of retired criminals reunites for one last job in “Fast & Furious 6,” and a teenage girl tries to save the world in the animated 3D “Epic.”
Enter to win a Blu-ray collection of the great gangster movies, classic and contemporary
Warner Bros. created the modern gangster movie in the early thirties, when they were the kings of high-energy, street-smart filmmaking. The genre remained dear to the studio throughout its history.
They pay tribute the best of their gangster films, yesterday and today, with two Blu-ray box sets: "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics" (Warner) and "Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary" (Warner). Both debut on Tuesday, May 21.
To celebrate the release, MSN and Warner Home Video are giving away a gift set of both volumes: nine films in two sets.
"Classics" offers the respective Blu-ray debuts of four landmark gangster movies -- "Little Caesar" (1931) with Edward G. Robinson, "The Public Enemy" (1931) with James Cagney, "The Petrified Forest" (1936) with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and the incendiary "White Heat" (1949) with Cagney -- plus a bonus DVD with the documentary "Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film."
"Contemporary" collects five films that have previously been released on Blu-ray, including three by Martin Scorsese -- "Mean Streets" (1973), Oscar-nominated "Goodfellas" (1990), and Oscar-winning "The Departed" (2006) -- plus Brian DePalma's "The Untouchables" (1987) with Kevin Costner and Robert DeNiro and Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995) with DeNiro and Al Pacino.
See a clip for "Heat" below.
Enter to win by following these steps:
1. Like MSN Movies on Facebook and Twitter
2. Tweet and comment the following message: I want to win the @MSNMovies #ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
3. Email email@example.com with the following message: I want to win @MSNMovies # ULTIMATEGANGSTERS giveaway!
4. Stay in touch with MSN Movies Facebook to see if you’ve been selected as the winner
Entries are accepted until Monday, May 27. Good luck, MSN Movies fans!
In the meantime, enjoy a clip from "Heat" after the jump. Click on "More" below.
Yay for divorce, poverty and suicide!
And much more in Videodrone's first monthly round-up of documentary and non-fiction releases
"Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" (Shout! Factory), the new profile of the legendary writer / director / actor / producer / all around funnyman from filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg, premieres on the PBS arts showcase "American Masters" on Monday, May 20, and debuts on DVD the next day. "A raconteur of the first order, Brooks is also gifted with near-total recall, and a wit that hasn’t ebbed with the passage of time," writes Variety TV critic Brian Lowry. "In Robert Trachtenberg’s film, Brooks concedes every bad review is like “a knife through your heart.” In savoring this valentine, that organ and every other can rest easy."
Shout! Factory has been doing right by Brooks, with its deluxe five-disc set "The Incredible Mel Brooks" (featuring some other standout documentaries and specials on Brooks) released in 2012. This joins the ongoing tribute, and the disc features bonus segments filmed for but not included in the documentary.
"Citizen Hearst" (HBO) profiles William Randolph Hearst, the legendary media mogul and yellow journalist, and the empire that continues on in his wake. "Sometimes "Citizen Hearst" feels as breezy and electric as the newsreels Hearst pioneered," observes Village Voice film critic Alan Scherstuhl, "other times it feels like the video they'll make you watch during orientation on your first day at 300 West 57th." Leslie Iwerks directs and William H. Macy narrates. DVD, with 30 minutes of bonus footage and the "Heart Castle" episodes of the A&E series "America's Castles."
"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" (Zeitgeist) profiles the acclaimed photographer as he worked on his magnum opus, a collection of massive prints he called "Beneath the Roses." "For those unfamiliar with Crewdson’s oeuvre, the docu serves as a delicious eye-opener, while for fans it furnishes an unprecedented look at his long-secret methods, utilizing crews and budgets suitable for independent features, by which his eerily frozen moments of Americana come into being," writes Variety film critic Ronnie Scheib. The DVD includes deleted scenes, bonus interviews, and a Q&A at a screening at LACMA with director Ben Shapiro, Crewdson, and writer Jonathan Lethem.
A superb Robin Wright dominates Ari Folman's trippy Hollywood satire
The Coen Brothers' latest film brings the '60s NYC folk scene back to life with a lot of love
Five features celebrating the glories of French silent cinema
"French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1928" (Flicker Alley) presents of the DVD debut of five silent classics from Film Albatros, a French studio founded by Russian artists: "The Burning Crucible," "Kean," "The Late Mathias Pascal," "Gribiche," and "The New Gentlemen."
Three of the films star Ivan Mosjoukine, the great Russian actor who fled the revolution and landed in Paris, and the other two are directed by Jacques Feyder. All of them are examples of the sophisticated filmmaking coming out of France in the twenties.
Which is not to say that they are all masterpieces -- "The Burning Crucible" (1923), which not only stars Mosjoukine but is written and directed by the actor, is inventive and full of lively images and playful techniques but is all over the place and jumps willy-nilly through styles and episodes -- but they are all tremendously entertaining and full of filmmaking energy. Mosjoukine plays eleven roles in "The Burning Crucible," including the leading role of Detective Z, a man of many disguises, and Mosjoukine the director rolls Russian formalism, German expressionism, and French surrealism together in a simplistic but richly imaginative story that at times borders on craziness of Louis Feuillade's serials of the previous decade.
Mosjoukine also stars in "Kean" (1924) as the great 19th century stage actor Edmund Kean and in "The Late Mathias Pascal" (1926), the fantasy epic directed by Marcel L'Herbier that Flicker Alley released on Blu-ray earlier this year. I reviewed it for Videodrone here.
The final pair of films in the set are from Jacques Feyder.