February 24, 2010

Her name is Sabine

Her name is Sabine is a harrowing film. There is no violence, no disturbing images, there is nothing to be honest apart from the use of the word ‘fuck’ that you would not like a three year old to see and yet it manages to be a very disturbing film. Made by the French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, it is a documentary about her sister Sabine who is autistic and psychologically infantile. It is a film in snapshots. It shows you Sabine when she was a young girl and teenager and Sabine now as a thirty eight year old. The period between the moments has been a story of degeneration and also of hospitalisation: whatever caused the change is dramatic and Sandrine blames the effects of the French hospital system for her sister’s degeneration.

In one sense the film can be read as a condemnation and a highly political call for more homes in France to help those who cannot help themselves. That is a very legitimate reading of the film but it is one that this blog cannot comment on- not because of a lack of sympathy but because of a lack of knowledge. The other way to read the film is as a story of human sympathy and love. Sabine is faded, she cannot do anything, she is tired by the least thing- like picking weeds out of a garden, she is almost personality less. She is aggressive, she is unaware of her effect on others and her moods pass quickly. She drools, she stares at the camera and is unable to really respond at points.

This is such a contrast to the young Sabine that you see. She is strange- but not as strange as her older self would become. She is happy, laughs, makes jokes, is excited by travelling (she keeps her watch on French time in America so that she can go to bed at 5.00!), she laughs and enjoys life. She might not be Einstein but she can play the piano- I know plenty of people with PhDs who can’t do that. She is an individual who relates to others and somehow some of that sap, some of that life has been drained from her to turn her into someone who is really ill and who at times seems to want to kill herself.

I don’t think you can have anything but pity for Sabine’s existence- the same girl is trapped inside and you see flickers of her. But you also have to feel sorry for those around her. The tragedy envelopes everyone. As the mother of a thirty year old together with Sabine in the home says, no matter what happens you feel guilty. The carers have emense patience as do the families, coping with what must be a terrible situation where they know that their loved one or their patient cannot really cope in normal society. Sabine is not to be accused for that, she cannot cope and cannot do what we all take for granted- whether its going to the shops or having a relationship- all the doors are closed.

At the end of one of Bergman’s films, which has a related theme to this, a man and his son stand watching a helicopter take off. How do we know of the existence of God says the son, to which the father responds that the only way that we can know is through the love that human beings show each other. I don’t think we can draw easy morality tales out of tragedy, but I think the love shown to Sabine by her sister in the film is very evident. The other thing that is evident is the patience that the workers display in working with her and her fellow inmates.

I don’t think there are easy lessons to be drawn from this film, just sad reflections. I don’t really know how else to conclude this review, so that’s where it stops.