Alice Winocour is a French film director and screenwriter. She has made three feature films: Augustine (2012), Disorder (2015), and Proxima (2019).
Alice Winocour is a Parisian writer and director who studied directing at La Fémis. Her first feature, Augustine, premiered in the Cannes Critics Week and was nominated for the César for Best First Feature. Her second feature, Disorder, which starred Matthias Schoenaerts premiered in Un Certain Regard, and won the AFI Fest Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement in Direction.
Winocour has written or co-written multiple critically acclaimed scripts for other directors, including Mustang, for which she won a César, Home, and Mignonnes. We named her third feature, Proxima, the 14th best film of the decade, and it received a special jury mention at TIFF last year. Each of her films features a single protagonist with a tour de force performance and a strong attention to sound design.
Alice Winocour grew up watching movies with her younger brother, and was especially a fan of David Cronenberg’s body horror. After completing a law degree, she decided to sit the test for La Fémis, and was accepted. She studied in the screenwriting program where she wrote the script for her first feature, Augustine (2012). When she couldn’t find someone else to direct the film, she was persuaded to direct it herself.
Inspired by her love of body horror, Winocour’s films tend to explore stories about people with traumatized bodies. She also tends to work on films centre on the subjectivity of one (or two) characters and work with actors on creating a strongly physical performance. She has one daughter whom she wanted to cast as the young girl in Proxima, but she refused to be in a movie directed by her mother. Winocour is blind in one eye, which has also made her extremely attentive to the sound design in her films.
Alice Winocour’s Filmmaking Process
To write her scripts, Winocour immerses herself in research in the milieu of her film, which also allows her to recruit real professional in the field as actors in her film. For Augustine, she read up on Jean-Martin Charcot and visited contemporary psychiatric hospitals where she talked to doctors and patients. Some modern-day patients appear in the film. For Disorder, she spent several years getting to know ex-soldiers with PTSD in order to write this thriller; several of the soldiers she talked to for research appear in the film among Vincent’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) security team. For Proxima, she spent two years in the European Space Agency, getting to know astronauts and other professionals, several of whom appear in the film. She also introduces her actors to the people she has talked to for research to help immerse them in the world, as well.
For all three of her features, Winocour has worked with the same core team: editor Julien Lacheray (who also works with Céline Sciamma on all of her features), cinematographer Georges Lechaptois, costume designer Pascaline Chavanne, and sound mixer Marc Doisne. She also likes to cast physical actors in her leading roles: “I like physical actors that have this animality. I’ve worked also with Vincent Lindon for Augustine, who is very physical, and Soko the actress, too. I knew I had to write for him [Schoenaerts]. So I worked a year-and-a-half, and we had several meetings. We met a lot of soldiers together to inspire [sic.] the part.”
For an overview of Winocour’s career, watch our Lockdown Film School interview with her:
Alice Winocour’s films
Augustine (2012) had its world premiere at the Cannes Critics’ Week. Alice Winocour was nominated for the César for Best First Film and Pascalien Chavanne was nominated for the César for Best Costume Design. Augustine also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, and Bombay International Film Festival.
While Winocour’s Augustine was condemned by many critics as just another period romance when it was released, the film is so much more complicated than that. Like Portrait, it is a complex deconstruction of the idea of the muse. The film suggests that the so-called muse has a lot more agency in the creation of “art” than one might think.
In this case, the muse is Augustine (Soko), a teenage patient in an asylum for women suffering from hysteria in 19th century France. Augustine’s violent and sexually-charged fits (she writhes and moans on the floor as if in sexual ecstasy) make her the star patient of neurologist Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon). He triggers her fits and shows them off to an audience of men in the medical field in scenes more remeniscent of theatre than science. The film is so much more about Augustine’s journey from an object to a subject than it is about Dr. Charcot, and their relationship is not romantic, but rather a complex and erotic power play in which Augustine has more agency than she (or the audience) might initially realise.
Disorder had its world premiere in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, before screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 2015 AFI Festival, the 2015 Stockholm Film Festival, and Film at Lincoln Centre’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema. Alice Winocour won the Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement in Direction at AFI Fest.
From our review: “Although Alice Winocour’s Disorder works as a heartpounding home invasion thriller, it’s also a meditation on trauma, paranoia, class, and unfulfilled desire. From the first shot of the film, Winocour places us firmly in the shoes of the protagonist, Vincent (Mattias Schoenaerts, terrific), a French soldier just returned from battle who is having trouble coping with civilian life. With tight closeups set to a blurred background to isolate him completely from the world when he’s panicking and a complex, subjective aural landscape — his war scars include hearing loss and we hear what he hears — we’re already primed for action and intrigue when the reality appears much more sedate.” Read the full review
When describing the film, Winocour noted, “I tried to imagine this fucked up soldier that is really confronted with a shitty world of money and power, arms dealers and corrupted politicians. He doesn’t understand anything about it, but he feels like there is a threat and a hidden violence.” She also loved that there was an unconventional love story between Vincent and his charge, Jesse (Diane Kruger): “They are clashing with each other, but at the same time, they are living something sentimental together. Jesse [Diane Kruger’s character], she’s also a prisoner, in this golden prison. She’s also suffering in this world, and that’s why they fit together.”
Winocour wrote the film specifically for Matthias Schoenaerts. “I’d seen him in Bullhead and in Rust and Bone, and I really wanted to work with him,” Winocour told us.
“I knew that he had this animality and [could pull off] this physical condition as an elite soldier. I wanted him to work himself into this kind of mental state. On the shooting, he was not sleeping anymore. He was only sleeping two hours per night. We knew that he had to feel in his eyes that he was in another world, so that he couldn’t fake it. “
He really immerses himself into the part. That is really what I admire about actors and also artists, in general— when they are entering this zone where they lose control and they forget themselves.”
Read our articles on Disorder
Proxima had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Platform Competition where it won Honourable Mention for the Platform Prize (along with Anne at 13,000 ft.). Eva Green was nominated for Best Actress for the film at the 2020 César Awards, and Winocour won the Special Prize of the Jury at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
From Orla Smith’s introduction to her interview with Alice Winocour on Proxima: “‘The idea of the separation from Earth resonate[s] with the idea of the separation from the little girl,’ Alice Winocour told me, regarding her outstanding new film, Proxima. Eva Green plays Sarah, an astronaut in training who is chosen to take part in a space mission, something all astronauts dream of but many never get to do. When she tells her ex-husband (Lars Eidinger), who is also a colleague, all she has to do is beam at him, and he knows what’s happened. Nothing else could make Sarah this happy.
But there are complications:, namely, Sarah’s young daughter, Stella. Sarah will be away from Earth and from her daughter for a whole year. But this isn’t a film about whether or not Sarah decides to leave; there’s never any doubt that she will go. Sarah adores her job, she’s fantastic at it, and the film never judges her for wanting to do what she loves. Stella will be fine in the hands of her father, who’s capable and loving, so Sarah doesn’t have to worry about her little girl’s well-being while she’s gone. In fact, there’s very little traditional conflict in Proxima. But that doesn’t make it any less gripping.” Read the full interview here.
Read our coverage of Alice Winocour’s Proxima
FAQs about Alice Winocour
Alice Winocour has completed a script for a new film starring an American actor, but shooting has been delayed because of COVID. She is working another script in the meantime. We hope to hear news of the film’s updated shooting plans later this year.
Alice Winocour has made three feature films: Augustine (2012), Disorder (2015), and Proxima (2019).
Alice Winocour wrote or co-wrote the screenplay for all of her features. She wrote Augustine on her own, and collaborated with Jean-Stéphane Bron on the scripts for Disorder and Proxima.
She has also collaborated on scripts for other directors’ films, including Mustang (2015), Ordinary People (2009), and Home (2008).
Alice Winocour’s research process for her films is unparalleled in contemporary cinema. She often spends multiple years immersing herself in the environment where her film will be set, and getting to know people with similar experiences as her characters.
For Augustine, she researched her real-life historical characters in depth, as well as visiting psychiatric institutions in operation today and talking to real patients (many of whom appear in the film).
For Disorder, an entirely fictional film, she got to know French soldiers with PTSD to understand their experiences and write this into her script. Several of these soldiers appear in the film.
For Proxima, Winocour spent several years in the European Space Agency, getting to know astronauts (especially mothers) and other specialists who work with astronauts, so that she could write the script from first-hand knowledge of these people and spaces.
In Canada, Augustine is only available on DVD. Disorder is available to rent on Cineplex or iTunes. Proxima is available to stream on Hoopla or rent on VOD.
In the US, you can stream Augustine on Prime or Kanopy, or rent it on iTunes/YouTube/Amazon. You can stream Disorder and Proxima on Hulu or rent them on VOD.
In the UK, you can rent Augustine on Amazon and iTunes, rent Disorder on most VOD platforms, and stream Proxima on Netflix.
In Australia, you can rent Augustine on Google Play/YouTube and iTunes, stream Disorder on SBS on Demand, and rent Proxima on VOD.
Alice Winocour has collaborated with the same core group of people on all of her features: editor Julien Lacheray, cinematographer Georges Lechaptois, costume designer Pascaline Chavanne, and sound mixer Marc Doisne. She has also co-written the scripts for her two most recent films with Jean-Stéphane Bron.
For the leading roles in all of her features, Alice Winocour has gravitated towards actors who are very physical in their performance, who are interested in exploring stories of traumatized bodies.
Alice Winocour grew up watching body horror films by David Cronenberg, and she cites his work as an inspiration for all of her films.
NEW EBOOK: In their own words: Fiction directors
Many of Alice Winocour’s insights appear in our new ebook on filmmaking.