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Thread: HER NAME IS SABINE (France/2007)

  1. #1
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    HER NAME IS SABINE (France/2007)

    Famous French actress Sandrine Bonnaire has a sister named Sabine who was born with a mental disability. The 38 year-old woman went undiagnosed and largely untreated until she was hospitalized at age 28. The stay lasted five years, during which her aggressive behavior was managed by means of physical restraints and isolation. Sabine has now been diagnosed as suffering from a combination of autism and infantilism (a term used by Sabine's doctor that has been replaced, at least in America, with "developmental disability"). Partly as a result of her sister's advocacy, Sabine now lives is a house in the country with three other disabled adults and a few trained caretakers.

    Her Name is Sabine is a documentary shot and directed by Sandrine that contrasts scenes of the 38 year-old Sabine and footage taken during her late teens and early twenties. The deterioration caused by the course of the disease, the side effects of the multiple medications prescribed, and institutionalization is obvious and striking. The type and quality of care Sabine and her housemates require in order to live in the least restrictive environment is clearly depicted. The bulk of the film concerns Sabine's daily activities. Sister Sandrinne doesn't quite make a statement of purpose in the film. It's only implied that she wants to raise awareness about the needs of people like Sabine and that these needs are largely unmet within France's system of care.

    Her Name is Sabine is honest about Sabine's most problematic aspects. Her anti-social behaviors are amply displayed. She tends to scream at random, she is seen greeting a clerk with a "Go fuck yourself" and becomes physically aggressive towards caretakers without any provocation. This raises the question of consent. The film avoids it altogether. It's clear that a person like Sabine is incapable of informed consent and has a legal guardian who make decisions for her. I do wonder if she has any sense that this time what Sandrine shoots will be shown publicly and become a media object. I wonder about how Sandrine feels about this. I wonder about how growing up with Sabine has influenced her_critic Michael Atkinson argues that maybe Sandrine was "channeling" Sabine in her career-making performances in Vagabond and A Nos amours. Sandrine is behind the camera and providing voice-over but she never dwells into her role, or purpose. She concedes that decreased contact between Sabine and her siblings during her 20s had a detrimental effect on her functioning. But that's the extent of any exploration of the relationship between them. Does Sandrine feel any guilt about leaving Sabine behind?

    Her Name is Sabine feels constrained by the filmmaker's decision to focus squarely on Sabine. The film would have been much richer if Sandrine had exercised a degree of self-reflexion. Documentaries such as My Mom, Our Journey and the remarkable, award-winning Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter (1994) are proof that there's much to be gained by exploring the role of the filmmaker and her relationship to the subject, particularly when the relationship is familial.

    Her Name Is Sabine is now available on dvd courtesy of the folks at FilmMovement.

  2. #2
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    Excellent Oscar.

    I'll look for this one for sure.
    Varda's Vagabond is a film that I'll always remember.
    It's very powerful.

    Did you know that Varda was one of only 5 people to be at Jim Morrison's funeral? She helped Pam Courson get him into Pere Lachaise cemetary. People always wonder how Jim was allowed to be interred there. It's an interesting story.

    In Vagabond there's a scene with Sandrine as a passenger in a car and a Doors song comes on the radio.

    I worship Agnes Varda.
    She told Jim in Paris that he should study the French way of making films. She thought he could become a major figure in cinema. She also tried to help him get his 2 films HWY and Feast of Friends shown at the cinematheque...
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3
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    Tres gentile, Johann.

    Interesting stuff about Varda's involvement with Morrison...

    Ah, yes. "The Changeling", off the L.A. Woman album.

    Her Name is Sabine is well worth seeing. Of course, Bonnaire can learn more than a thing or two from the great Agnes Varda. I'd recommend her Jacquot de Nantes as an example of an expert and brilliant way to handle issues of consent, authorship, filmmaker's privilege, self-disclosure, etc. when making a doc about a family member.

  4. #4
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    This was shown in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center in Februarry and I reviewed it in the Festival Coverage section at that time.

  5. #5
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    Nice of you to provide a link to your review here, although I had read it previously. I didn't like the film as much as you did and it's good folks will have easy access to a more benign take.

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