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First Published Wednesday, 26 November 2008

In May this year, the French Government announced a new ‘autism plan’, which is hoped will help improve conditions for autistic people in France.  French actress, Sandrine Bonnaire, has made an acclaimed film, Her name is Sabine, about her younger sister, who is autistic.  The film asks whether Sabine’s decline is an inherent part of her condition or a result of five years’ incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.


The film is an urgent plea to acknowledge, value, support and involve differently-abled individuals in society.


The following Film Review comes courtesy of Miranda Kemp, Editor of NAS’ Communication magazine and may be found in the Winter 2008 publication.


Sandrine Bonnaire

My sister Sabine


Sandrine Bonnaire’s directorial debut – a moving and beautiful documentary about her sister, Sabine, won the Film Critics’ Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, and rightly so.  Modern footage of Sabine, now in her 40s and living in a care home, is intercut with home movies, taken by her famous sister, Sandrine, over 25 years.  We see a young Sabine – enthusiastic, positive and independent – swimming, dancing, riding her motorbike and travelling to America.  The juxtaposition of these images with those of her now – anxious, overweight, self-harming and agitated, her abilities clearly diminished – is terribly sad.


What has happened over that quarter of a century?  Well, a number of things.  Naturally enough, her loving siblings, upon whom she clearly relied for stimulating and caring support, moved away from home to get on with their lives.  Tragedy followed with the loss of a beloved brother, made all the more traumatic for Sabine as she witnessed his death.


A subsequent relocation to the Paris suburbs with her mother, herself increasingly unable to cope, all contributed to Sabine’s regression.  Despite frequent visits from her supportive family, after 27 years at home, the only solution seemed to be institutional care.  Undiagnosed as a child, she spent the next five years in a psychiatric hospital, during which, at times, her family were actively discouraged from visiting her.  Although Sabine’s behaviour prior to her incarceration had become increasingly challenging, it seems likely that her time in the hospital had a large part to play in her loss of ability and the crushing of her spirit, although Sandrine doesn’t say as much in her film.


However, the actress/director has used her celebrity to raise funds to open a second, specialist care home, as the one the family favoured for Sabine was full.  Now receiving appropriate support and care, Sabine continues to make slow progress and is beginning to regain some of her enjoyment in life.  “I am happy,” she states from the water at the local swimming pool.  If ever there was a graphic argument for accurate diagnosis, appropriate support, education and care for autistic people, it is this film.


Sabine, pictured right, as she is today, out with fellow residents of her care home


Since the film’s release, Xavier Bertrand, France’s minister for work and social affairs, has visited the home where Sabine lives and Sandrine has met with President Nicolas Sarkozy to argue her case.  So it does look as though the making of the film is having an impact on the French policy-makers who can make a difference to the lives of autistic people in France.


Her name is Sabine DVD cover

Her Name is Sabine is now available on DVD from ICA Films



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