Sex and death – or at least extreme physical anguish – go hand in hand in this darkly erotic period piece set in the 19th century.
Augustine (Music Box Films, Blu-ray $34.95, DVD $29.95) begins with a 19-year-old maidservant Augustine (played by the French singer Soko) observing the final moments of a crab as it convulses in boiling water. Moments later, Augustine has collapsed into seizure, howling and writhing like a woman in orgasm – la petite mort, or “tiny death,” in the film’s original French.
Augustine is admitted the next day at Paris’ Salpêtrière Hospital, where at first she is just one more anonymous patient, another woman diagnosed with “ovarian hysteria.” But when Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon, of Mademoiselle Chambon) witnesses an attack that leaves Augustine partially paralyzed, he takes a professional, then intensely personal interest in her case.
First-time writer/director Alice Winocour is working with real-life biographical material: Charcot was a pioneering neurologist, and Augustine was his star patient – the visual prop to his public lectures, where he would induce under hypnosis her violent, intensely sexual fits. Winocour isn’t terribly interested in conveying historical detail, context clues, or even hard facts, and that abstractness – while frustrating for this viewer – accurately reflects Augustine’s own bafflement at her condition and her treatment. (She’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but hardly anyone thinks to actually talk to her or explain what’s going on in her head and with her body.) Instead, Winocour traffics in sensations, sometimes with great sophistication, as in a pas de trois with Dr. Charcot’s pet monkey that wordlessly announces a point-of-no-return for doctor and patient.
The Hollow Crown: The Complete Series (Universal Studios, $44.98): English majors will lap up this BBC produced, impeccably pedigreed adaptation of four Shakespeare works, Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V; it stars Brit heavyweight thesps Patrick Stewart, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Ben Whishaw.
Nashville: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $49.95): If the idea of a soap opera set in Grand Ole Opry country sets your teeth on edge, well, then loosen your jaw, y’all: The first season was wickedly entertaining stuff, and the original songs (penned by the likes of Elvis Costello and the Civil Wars, performed with gusto by castmates like Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere) are pretty damn catchy. The second season premieres Sept. 25 on ABC.
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