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'Abuse of Weakness" review: Isabelle Huppert stuns

'Abuse of Weakness' movie review


Fictionalized, yet based on events in her own life, French writer/director Catherine Breillat (“The Sleeping Beauty,” “Fat Girl”) serves up a challenging, yet performance shining film with “Abuse of Weakness.” Opening Friday, August 22 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre, the films stars the amazing Isabelle Huppert as Maud, a French film director who in mid-life has a debilitating stroke. Determined to continue her life, including making films, Maud becomes obsessed with a tough con man, Vilko (French rapper Kool Shen). Spotting Vilko on television promoting his book on how he conned celebrities out of their money, Maud thinks he’d be perfect for her new film.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Actress Isabelle Huppert and director Catherine Breillat attend the 'Abuse Of Weakness' screening during the 57th BFI London Film Festival at the Odeon West End on October 14, 2013 in London, England.
Photo by Tim P. Whitby

Setting a meeting at her place, Maud pitches him her film’s violent and sexual details. Interested but aloof, Vilko agrees to additional meetings, and soon the two are each psychologically gaming the other. Vilko may have spent time in prison, but he certainly isn’t reformed – he’s proud and boasts about his accomplishments. Likewise, Maud isn’t about to let her partially paralyzed body slow her down, and physically uses Vilko, just as he uses her for “loans.”

“Abuse of Weakness” is a French legal term meaning criminal offense. However, in Breillat’s depiction, the waters are murky regarding who is weak, as both leads, Maud and Vilko have an oddly mesmerizing, even child-like co-dependency on one another.

Screened some months ago during the ColCoa French Film Festival, the film still casts its spell and resonates with this reviewer. On the one hand it’s hard to grasp how a strong personality like Maud can continue to loan money to Vilko? Perhaps, with her physically challenged body challenging a formerly healthy mindset, it’s simply to keep the upper hand – after all she controls the purse strings. Perhaps.

It’s a fascinating character study made all the more chilling knowing that in “real life” Breillat was conned out of a great deal of money by such a man after her stroke. In the film’s production notes, Breillat admits that “Abuse of Weakness” is tough to view for those who know her, but for Breillant she’s simply making a film – “I’m telling Maud’s story not mine.”

Either way, it’s both fascinating and bewildering. And, it’s the strength of the two leads, Isabelle Huppert and Kool Shen that propel this story into one’s psyche.

“Abuse of Weakness” is 104 minutes, Not Rated (but tonally an R), and opens August 22 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre.

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