Her Name is Sabine
As an actress, Sandrine Bonnaire has worked with some illustrious French filmmakers including Maurice Pialat, Agnes Varda, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol. Her Name is Sabine, her own impressive directorial debut, is an intimate and poignant documentary portrait of her 38-year-old autistic sister Sabine.
Clips from old home-movies, shot by Bonnaire show a pretty and vibrant teenaged Sabine, who was then able to play Bach and Chopin on the piano, learn English, and accompany Sandrine on trips to New York and Guadeloupe. However, her erratic behaviour saw her removed from school, and when her siblings grew up and left home, her actions became increasingly disruptive and self destructive. A disastrous five-year spell in a psychiatric hospital followed, where she was ‘treated’ with antipsychotic drugs, stints of solitary confinement and straightjackets.
Now Sabine lives in a residential centre in the Charente, which her famous sister helped set up. Here carers respectfully look after her and the other residents, and it’s at this group home that Sandrine patiently observes her daily existence. Through cutting between present and past we appreciate Sabine’s tragic loss of independence and how her personality has been stifled. Physically the patient is almost unrecognizable from her younger incarnation: she is now obese, sluggish and struggles with basic physical tasks. She repeatedly asks Sandrine the same question, ‘Are you coming to visit tomorrow?’ reflecting her profound fear of abandonment. In a particularly moving moment, she views footage of her adolescent trip on Concorde and burst into tears – of joy. And whilst this film quietly expresses Bonnaire’s profound love for her sibling, it also poses important broader questions about how society should care for those suffering from debilitating behavioural conditions.
GFT, Glasgow from Fri 22-Mon 25 Aug.