In 2004, Director Catherine Breillat suffered a stroke. In 2007, she met conman Christopher Rocancourt. In 2009, she wrote a book titled Abus de faiblesse. In 2012, Rocancourt was sentenced to prison. Now, in 2013, Catherine’s story comes to the big screen.
Known for her sexually charged stories (Romance, Anatomy of Hell), Breillat’s The Abuse of Weakness follows famed director Maud Sainburg’s descent into physical and emotional captivity. Isabelle Huppert masterfully portrays her suffering a stroke, going through rigorous therapy, but never quite regaining the full use of her left arm and leg. One evening, Maud sees an interview with a notorious conman named Vilko. She insists that he be the leading man in her next film. Once they meet, there is an instant magnetic attraction. Whether it be genuinely sexual or the appeal of the danger, Maud begins a working relationship Vilko. He calls her numerous times a day (and night). She always seems to be the dominant one in their cat and mouse power struggle. Then the requests begin. Vilko tells Maud that he is being hounded by the authorities to pay taxes on a book he wrote after his release. Wishing to keep him on good terms, Maud writes him a check. The she writes another, and another. During their time together, she writes him loans for over €700,000, bankrupting herself in the process.
During the course of the film, you aren’t quite sure who has the true upper hand. You want so badly to believe that she cannot possibly be making the same mistakes all of his other victims did. Although, Vilko is at her beckon call throughout, you’re never quite sure if her motivation is companionship or self destruction. Her family appears in the family, though infrequently at best. Perhaps it is a cry for attention and affection. We may never know.
This story is a mirror of Catherine’s real life experiences with Rocancourt. She is known for using non-actors for her roles. She found Vilko (Kool Shen) by googling rappers. Kool is alarming in his appearance and in his manner. You fear him. He makes you uneasy. As his foil, Isabelle Huppert is a pro. Perhaps best known in America for her award winning performance in The Piano Teacher, Isabelle gives a relentlessly elegant performance showing the audience an inside view of the daily challenges Catherine must endure. Simply getting into a vehicle, unlocking a door, or even putting on her boots requires assistance. If you didn’t know any better, you would think Isabelle actually had Catherine’s afflictions. The moments without dialogue are hands down the most powerful.
The Abuse of Weakness is an unbelievable story of strength; a mental mind game. Who ends of winning the game in the end remains a toss up. You’ll just have to decide for yourself.
VERDICT: A must see
BOTTOM LINE: The story will haunt you and hopefully serve as a warning. Play with fire and you will get burned.
Originally posted on The Artswire