Her Name Is Sabine / Son nom est Sabine is a soul wrenching documentary. French film star Sandrine Bonnaire tells the story of her autistic sister now living in a group home. She contrasts her sister Sabine, now in her thirties and pretty much devoid of any inner light, to her sister as she appeared on home movies over the years.
Bonnaire wants the viewer, forces the viewer to compare Sabine now to how she was when she was a teenager. Sabine went from a very functional if a little odd young woman who could express herself, ride a moped, and follow her sister to New York to a blob of a woman whose universe does not extend past herself and the immediate moment and who needs to be cajoled and pushed to do the simplest group home tasks.
The difference between the two Sabines, something Bonnaire constantly forces the viewer to make, is violent in how absolute and devastating it is. A particularly difficult moment to watch is when the two Sabines, the one in family movies, and the one now in a group home, are juxtaposed playing the piano. Even more difficult to watch is a scene near the end where Sabine is shown footage of her trip to New York some fifteen years earlier and her obvious realization she is no longer that functional young woman.
In voice-over Bonnaire explains how her sister slowly deteriorated as she grew older and her brothers and sisters moved away and the impossibility for even the strongest or more resourceful in her family to take care of Sabine; even renting Sabine an apartment across the street from hers with live-in caregivers failed. The only solution the family could find was internment. The ensuing five year stay in a psychiatric hospital --of which no home movie exists and little is known aside from what Bonnaire says in voice-over and the comparison Sabine's doctor makes between now and then-- totally destroyed what light there was in Sabine. If her condition was slowly going downhill before the hospital it is clear the hospital was a dark and complete fall. The climb back out, even five years later, will never be total.
Bonnaire had an agenda making this documentary but it is suggested only in the passages about the damage caused to Sabine by her stay in the psychiatric hospital and how Sabine is now in a group home only because the film star combined her fame and connections to the tenacity of the French doctor who wanted to open it.
Her Name Is Sabine / Son nom est Sabine is a brilliant documentary you can only sit through once because of how powerful it is.
As with every Film Movement DVD, this one comes with a short film as an extra feature: The Visitor, by Canadian Dan Lee West. It is a moody fifteen minute tale of a man who misses his seven-year-old daughter and gives a young woman a ride because her car broke down. My problem with some shorts and independent films is too often they are weird for the sake of being weird and have artsy fartsy camera angles and shots just because they are artsy fartsy. A film maker should not stand in front of his movie and Dan Lee West really does.