In 2004, director Catherine Breillat suffered a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body. Three years later she met the notorious con man Christophe Rocancourt, who would eventually con her out of over 600,000 dollars. This experience loosely served as the inspiration for her latest film, Abuse of Weakness.
The film finds Isabelle Huppert playing a director, named Maud, who suffers a stroke and must overcome the obstacles associated with the rehabilitation process. After seeing con man Vilko (French rapper Kool Shen) being interviewed on television, Maud is convinced that he would be the perfect lead for a film she is working on. Though a confident and independent woman, Maud slowly finds herself being swayed by Vilko’s charm. Always looking at possible business ventures, Vilko talks Maud into lending him $25,000 to get a book idea off the ground. Soon Maud finds herself writing cheques for numerous projects that only result in her descending deeper and deeper into debt.
What has always drawn me to Breillat’s work, is her strong female characters and her self-reflective nature. She has shown, as was the case with Sex is Comedy, that she is not afraid to examine her own role in particular events on screen. This introspective trait works as a benefit in Abuse of Weakness as it is one of the few times we get to see a somewhat vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, version of Breillat. Of course, being a strong person by nature, the version of Breillat on screen is one that still tries to maintain her dominance even when it is clear she is unconsciously playing the role of the submissive.
When Maud tries to justify how she let a con man take her for $800,000 by stating “it was me…and not me.,” it is Breillat’s way of trying to reclaim some authority by reinforcing that this is a fictionalized version of true events. The fact remains though that even the strongest of personalities can be taken advantage of in their weakest moments. Despite knowing Vilko’s history, Maud still freely cuts cheques whenever he requires money. Even when she is perturbed that Vilko frequently neglects to payback what he owes, yet seems to find enough money to buy his wife expensive gifts, Maud never follows through on her legal threats until it is too late. This reluctance to acknowledge that she has lost control is a recurring theme throughout the film.
Since the film is primarily set around the relationship between Maud and Vilko, Abuse of Weakness does suffer from being rather repetitive. After a while one cannot help but question how long it will take for Maud to finally wake up and see the situation for what it really is. Fortunately, the thing that kept me invested in the film is Isabelle Huppert’s tremendous performance. Not only does she embody the physically demanding aspects of the role, but captures the vulnerability needed to be swayed by someone like Vilko.
Abuse of Weakness is an adequate, if at times very repetitive, film that succeeds based on Huppert’s performance. It may not rank amongst Breillat’s best, but it does offer a little more insight into a vulnerable side of Breillat that we rarely see.