Monday, August 18, 2014

“Abuse Of Weakness”– Movie Review



Recently, I attended the opening night of the new French drama starring Isabelle Huppert, “Abuse Of Weakness”, at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, . 


After suffering a stroke, a filmmaker begins a seemingly professional relationship with a known con artist – but when he becomes a financial drain on her, will she be able to put a stop to him?


Hospitalized as the result of a severe brain hemorrhage, Maud (Huppert) is discouraged to learn that the entire left side of her body has betrayed her.  During her extended stay, she is forced to undergo extensive physical therapy in order to re-learn how to walk, talk and dress, among other daily activities she previously took for granted.  Finding herself permanently debilitated, this fiercely independent woman is eventually discharged and tries diligently to return to life as usual – although once home, she quickly realizes that life as she used to know it is no more and she must adjust to a new version of “normal”. 

Recuperating, Maud plans a return to work; developing her next film, she becomes enchanted by Vilko (Kool Shen), whom she sees interviewed on a television show.  Promoting a new book about his previous career as a con man, he now claims to have been reformed, thanks in no small part to a long prison sentence.  Newly free, he renounces his past and insists he will devote his future to educating others about how to avoid being swindled by professional crooks who have no compunction about stealing someone else’s hard-earned money. 

Maud arranges to meet Vilko, whom she would like to cast in an upcoming movie – or at least, so she says.  During their working relationship, Vilko conjures some rather creative excuses for Maud to lend him money so he can get back on his feet.  After pretty much reaching the outer limits of the credit line her bank will extend and having almost completely exhausted her own personal savings, Maud finally comes to the bitter realization that Vilko will never repay her – nor, apparently, did he ever have the intention of doing so.  Confronted with this, will she be able to summon the will to call an end to his scam once and for all?


The main reason to see “Abuse Of Weakness” is for Isabelle Huppert; throughout much of the film, her physically challenging performance as a stroke victim with the entire left side of her body virtually useless is truly amazing to watch.  Beyond that, I’m afraid, the movie is a bit wanting in a number of ways – not the least of which being the ending, which I found somewhat unsatisfying.  Although concluding with an “intervention” of sorts involving Maud’s family – including her adult children, demanding an explanation of how their potential inheritance managed to be squandered so easily – it does precious little to resolve all of the motion picture’s preceding events. 

“Abuse Of Weakness” is based on true events that occurred a decade ago to its writer-director Catherine Breillat, who somehow found a way to survive her ordeal.  Despite all of this, it feels very difficult to believe.  Why a successful woman would allow herself to be so obviously manipulated to such an extreme and for so long is hard to fathom; were it not based in reality, it would’ve seemed too fantastic to be believable in any movie.  Perhaps therein lies the main problem with “Abuse Of Weakness” – reality does not always make for the best story. 

It may be the flaw here is that Breillat fell victim to her own vulnerability – so much so that she wished to dramatize it in a movie.  Since it actually happened to the filmmaker herself, rather than to a close friend or relative, she lacked sufficient objectivity to be able to make a dramatically compelling film on the subject matter; “this really happened to me and therefore it’s interesting” isn’t enough.  Breillat wasn’t making a documentary here; a bit of embellishment was necessary in order to make the audience more emotionally involved in this motion picture. 

Abuse of Weakness (2013) on IMDb


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