Sabine Bonnaire

Sandrine Bonnaire’s Letter of Intent


HER NAME IS SABINE chronicles the life of my little sister Sabine who is autistic. She was only diagnosed in 2001.


There’s one year difference between us. As a little girl, she lived at home with our family and went to a special school for mentally handicapped children. She was a happy and vivacious child with lots of abilities. In particular, she could read and write. Around the age of 12, my parents decided, along with the special school, to enroll her in the same junior high as my brothers and sisters and myself. But Sabine wasn’t like the other kids. Her behavior was a little out of sync. She would talk to herself, sometimes giggle on her own and often repeat the same sentence over and over. It didn’t take long before the students started making fun of her and nicknamed her “Crazy Sabine”. The humiliation made Sabine turn self- destructive. She would scratch her face, bite herself, scream and take off her clothes out in the playground. She became impossible to handle. Sabine was expelled and never went back to school again; she stayed at home until the age of 27. During these years, she became deeply interested in many things. She studied English, knitted sweaters, made rag dolls, learned to play music on a little Bontempi piano and developed a penchant for geography. Fascinated by the idea of different time zones, she dreamed of traveling to distant countries. In 1987, I took her on her first trip to the West Indies, and used the occasion as a good excuse to buy a camera. I wanted Sabine to have some memories of our adventure. It was an unforgettable trip for us both. We started taking other trips together, always with the camera in tow. I loved filming her and it became a game between us.


In 1996, her world turned upside down. Our oldest brother passed away. My mother decided to move to the country and took Sabine with her. The shock of the death, which she never came to terms with, and the distance separating us made Sabine turn violent, not towards herself this time but towards others, notably our mother. Sabine became dangerous and they had to be separated. My sisters and I decided to send her to a psychiatric hospital to get a doctor’s opinion. Sabine was institutionalized for two weeks. She came out after a light treatment, but at that point, she still had not been diagnosed.


It took five years before Sabine would end up