by Nish Israni
I love watching movies, especially good ones, and those are hard to come by. I feel like having a feminist approach to life has made going to the movies like going to the dentist. All I can do is clench my fists tightly to my sides and tense my body until he’s done attacking my teeth with a variety of instruments.
Mainstream media can be so saturated with sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism and more, that I have to put on my investigator glasses to decide whether the movie I want to see is worth watching. Sometimes I use the 21 questions technique as I debate with myself or seek out trusted reviewers before deciding on a flick. That is why I like going to film festivals around the city.
I feel blessed to live in Toronto where there are film festivals galore, such as the INSIDE OUT festival, the HOT DOCS festival, the REEL WORLD festival and of course the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM festival (TIFF). This year, TIFF blew me away. Every single movie that I watched was ground-breaking and awe-striking. I’d like to think that my feminist radar is to thank for my choices in picking those rare gems that I might not have come across otherwise.
One of the films that I saw was called Augustine, a tale that struck me as soon as I read about it in the TIFF brochure. It tells the story of a young woman who was institutionalized for exhibiting signs of sexual arousal and frustration as a severe illness. I was intrigued by the stories of these women and impressed by the director’s extensive research in order to make this film. When I found out that the director would be there at the screening, I knew that this was a movie I could not miss. Running into my women’s studies professor in the theatre was the cherry on top.
Augustine is a first for director Alice Winocour. Based on true events, the movie is a re-telling of the stories of women who were held in a facility under the medical authority of Dr. Charcot, who happened to be Freud’s teacher. In this time and place, the womb was considered a mystery. A lot of professionals thought it wandered in our bodies and was responsible for creating “hysteria.” Wincour spent a lot of time researching the documents that chronicle this period in time and found Augustine to be the one who was mentioned the most. Wincour believes this was because Augustine was the prettiest patient and therefore the most studied. She was subjected to the whims of her doctor who paraded her around in front of a team of professionals as part of his research on women. A lot of the experiments were invasive and of a sexual nature.
When asked during a post-screening Q&A why she made this film, the director said this was an important story that needed to be told because women around the world still struggle to have autonomy over themselves. She brought this sad and shocking tale to life in a chilling manner through real testimonies of some of the women, achingly beautiful landscapes and haunting cinematography. The stark contrast between the gorgeous scenery and the cold, clinical and calculated violence that was administered towards women in those days left a hole in my heart. The grotesque invalidation of women’s sexualities and total ownership over their bodies draws our attention to the curiosity that is a young girl’s sexual awakening. There are a lot of how-to guides, literature and media informing us about male sexualities, but women still struggle with positive, affirming and empowering portrayals of their sexuality. This film is a must-see for anyone wanting to brush up on their her-stories and for those who need some fuel to ignite their passion for how important it is to reclaim our bodies and sexualities.
Nish Israni is a young woman of colour who is passionate about social justice. She believes in the power of solidarity as a force for healing, transformation and finding community. She loves to create artistic expressions in their various forms which are sometimes fueled by activism such as zines, poetry, spoken word, films, and photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. RAGE MORE!