Review: My Name is Sabina Spielrein

The film stands as a mildly fascinating project to restore Sabina Spielrein to her rightful historical station.

My Name is Sabina Spielrein
Photo: Facets

In 1904, novice German psychoanalyst Carl Jung took as his first patient a 19-year-old named Sabina Spielrein whom, he believed, suffered from “hysteria.” Over the course of the next 20 years, their doctor-patient relationship—as well as Jung’s groundbreaking conversations about Spielrein with paternalistic mentor Sigmund Freud—would establish the foundations for modern psychoanalysis. However, while Freud and Jung’s work came to define their field of study, Spielrein’s role in their professional and personal lives became merely a footnote (literally, in one of Freud’s journals), a situation Elisabeth Marton’s My Name Was Sabina Spielrein seeks to rectify with the help of copious letters (discovered in 1977) written by Spielrein, Jung, and Freud. Using a combination of straightforward narration, voice-over readings of the trio’s correspondences, dramatic reenactments of key events, and Ken Burns-style shots of old photographs, parchments, and knickknacks, Marton’s quasi-documentary exhibits a gauzy, dreamlike atmosphere that taps into Freud’s fascination with the bond between slumbering subconscious fantasies and reality. Such a relationship was ably embodied by Spielrein, an intelligent woman who became enraptured with the married Jung (and gripped by delusions about their nonexistent love affair) and who never fully escaped her amorous obsession even after moving on to become a pioneering child psychoanalyst, wife, and mother. Marton’s melding of fictional and non-fictional filmmaking is something of a mixed-blessing, as it faithfully captures the madness-tinged dynamic of the threesome’s union—which also involved Jung’s eventual realization that he did have feelings for Spielrein (dubbed “counter-transference” by Freud), though ones he couldn’t act upon; Jung’s eventual estrangement from Freud and his sex-obsessed theories; and Spielrein’s suspicions that Jung stole her ideas—while also losing a sense of narrative lucidity through its daunting profusion of facts, notable personalities, and speculation. Yet if ultimately unable to escape being an addendum to Jung and Freud stories, My Name Was Sabrina (as its self-actualizing title implies) nonetheless stands as a mildly fascinating project to restore Spielrein to her rightful historical station.

 Cast: Eva Österberg, Lasse Almebäck, Mercedez Csampai, Maria Thorgevsky, Dan Winer, Helmut Vogel  Director: Elisabeth Marton  Screenwriter: Yolande Knobel, Signe Mähler, Elisabeth Marton  Distributor: Facets  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2002  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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