Freud and Jung might have vied for prominence in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” but Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon), who was Freud’s teacher, developed the theory of hysteria that inspired both of them. Alice Winocour’s impressive debut feature, “Augustine,” depicts a Charcot who is showman as much as scientist, whose research and cures, which he insists are intended to free women from the stigma of a misunderstood malady, are also, unintentionally, a means of further subjugating them. Though feminist in her point of view, Winocour does not reduce her characters to caricatures, but depicts them as unwitting actors in the tragedy of a pathological society.
Sounds a bit dry, but the abstract becomes cinematic with the very first scene, a David Lynch-like shot of a crab feebly twitching in a pot of boiling water. Augustine (Soko), the troubled 19-year-old kitchen maid of the title, empathizes with the doomed crustacean, so much so that when she brings the dish in to be served to a dining room full of bejeweled and tuxedoed guests, she throws a violent fit. As she writhes on the floor in what looks increasingly like sexual ecstasy, the shocked diners gaze on, unable to look away.