French actress Sandrine Bonnaire’s documentary about the precipitous decline of her sister’s mental and physical state after spending five years in a psychiatric hospital before being diagnosed primarily with autism.

Elle s'apelle Sabine

Both devastating and hopeful, the film spends most of its time with Sabine, the sister, in her new life at a group home as she struggles to regain what she had lost. We also see the toll that attempting (and failing) to care for her has wrought on her family.

Key moment: Sabine staring at images of herself from decades earlier, excitedly traveling on a plane to the U.S. for vacation. Tears streak her face, as I imagine she is haunted by what once was and how deeply she feels the loss of her own self, but no, she explains, they are tears of joy, seeing a genuine happiness reflected back at her through a television screen. Her declaration came as a surprise to me for two reasons. One, based on what I’d seen that far, I didn’t anticipate her to articulate her reaction so clearly; and two, I couldn’t fathom her gazing at a vision of herself before institutionalization and pull anything positive from it. I have to keep both points in mind because people surprise constantly, both in their awareness and in their perspectives, and my assumptions should be checked at the door when I’m feeling especially challenged.

Sabine Bonnaire

Sabine’s commanding eyes.

An undercurrent in the film sank in late: sibling bonds and how intense they can run. Though the director trains the camera on her sister, Sabine is almost oblivious to it, focusing instead, with an almost unbearable intensity, on Sandrine. It’s as though what Sabine has lost over the years transforms into some ethereal link between the two siblings, each of them gazing intently, incessantly, one with unwavering eyes, the other with a camera. The mutual gaze  tells of longing, desperation, sadness, hope, and love.