In this moving and acutely personal documentary, the elegant French actress Sandrine Bonnaire delivers a deeply affecting portrayal of the way she and her younger sister, Sabine, have dealt with the latter's autism, a condition that remained shockingly undiagnosed for more than two decades.
Much of their history as siblings is delivered through silent home-video snapshots of their childhood – delicately observed, ordinary moments such as Sabine laughing or looking out of a car window. These understated images of a beautiful, free-spirited youngster are interspersed with the desperate reality of Sabine as she is now at 38, only momentarily recognisable – depressed, anxious, overweight, non-communicative and prone to distressing violent outbursts.
As the film progresses, a major question prevails: to what extent was Sabine's five-year hospital incarceration responsible for her decline? It becomes clear that her confinement was possibly unnecessary and that a lack of medical resources, and emotional understanding failed her. By alternating starkly different images of childhood and adulthood, Bonnaire perfectly manipulates the audience's reaction to the sisters' plight.
More information about Sabine's hospitalised life would have helped to move one beyond knee-jerk responses and to contemplate the complexity of the issues thrown up. But Her Name Is Sabine is a brave and ultimately honest film. It's refreshing that Bonnaire doesn't seek to glorify or sensationalise what both sisters have been through, and their capacity for love and humour is evident despite the mutual frustration and confusion about the life Sabine leads and the life she could perhaps have had.
Jemma Smith, waitress, Lancaster