Augustine, a fifteen-year old maid in a wealthy home, collapses with a seizure while she is serving an elegant dinner. When she recovers, she is unable to open one eye. She is transported to Salpetriere hospital in Paris under the care of the famous J. M. Charcot, neurologist and psychiatrist who is fascinated by the condition of hysteria. He uses hypnosis to suggest cures to his patients and to trigger attacks which he demonstrates to his colleagues. Augustine is particularly susceptible to fits under hypnosis and obliges her doctor with lewd, convulsive performances virtually on command.

After one such episode the paralysis moves from her eye to her hand. She says that she wishes to be cured, but life in the asylum is not terrible: she has a warm room and food; she no longer needs to work in a kitchen or serve demanding masters.  The doctor is clearly taken with her as a scientific subject. “Augustine est une patient magnifique,” he assures a colleague. He is personally intrigued by her too.

Finally, one day she announces that she is cured. When Charcot tries to hypnotize her for another demonstration, she does not succumb; however, a look passes between them. Taking pity on her doctor, she stages a seizure that satisfies the audience. Immediately after, she and the doctor have a single passionate encounter against a clinic wall, and then she runs away.


This film is based on the true story of Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) whose bold investigation of female hysteria has garnered criticism and praise. Among the first detractors was Axel Martin Fredrik Munthe, whose “autobiographical” memoir has been discredited. Some accounts suggest that Charcot had been duped by his own patients, including the real Augustine and several others who became famous in their own right. The dark tones and costumes recreate the candlelit world of late-nineteenth-century hospitals.

Even at the end of the film it is not clear how much, if any, insight Augustine ever had into her problems. The question of Charcot’s ambiguous naiveté or brilliance is left unanswered.


In French with English Subtitles.

Primary Source

ARP Selection, Dharamsala, France 3 Cinema et al. coproduction