abuse-of-weakness-003Renowned French auteur Catherine Breillat is celebrated for her distinctively intimate productions, drawing on her own life experiences to create a realistic, individualist brand of filmmaking. Her latest, Abuse of Weakness, is one of her most personal yet, as we follow the distressing ordeal of a vulnerable, middle-aged filmmaker who struggles to overcome a stroke – something that Breillat herself had to experience in 2004.

Isabelle Huppert plays Maud Schoenberg, a cultivated director who awakes one morning to learn that she is paralysed by a stroke. Spending a while to get back on her feet and rediscover her confidence, she starts planning for her next project – and when she sees an ex-convict Vilko (Kool Shen) on the television, she impulsively decides he’s the man to play the male lead in her forthcoming production. Forming a professional relationship with the man, the criminal manipulates her into giving him vast amounts of money, as this fragile filmmaker struggles to identify the fact she is being conned.

It’s a unique friendship between the two, and despite the frustration at witnessing this poor woman be walked over – you fully believe in how she got herself into such a predicament. Similarly to Untouchable, it picks up on the notion that people who are physically handicapped find themselves emotionally attracted to people who don’t pity them, or sympathetically pander to their needs. Maud simply desires somebody to make her feel normal again – and Vilko’s apathetic treatment of her does just that. It’s uncomfortable to watch at times, to see someone so independent now having to rely heavily on others, and though assistance is essential, the fact she sees it as an undignified, diminishing of pride, makes the viewer feel almost guilty for watching on.

Right from the word go you question Vilko’s motives and it makes for a disquieting piece, as he abuses her weakness, so to speak, – and it’s disheartening to witness. It’s one of those films where you, the viewer, are desperate to intervene. Breillat normalises our protagonist however, even sexualising her somewhat with various shots of her in bed, with her bare shoulders showing. She doesn’t deviate away from portraying her physical limitations either, done so subtly in scenes such as the one where she struggles to open up a packet of ham and subsequently eat it – avoiding being emotionally manipulative at any point. In the meantime we see a stunning lead performance from Huppert, who embodies the character authentically and sincerely.

Thought-provoking this may be, regrettably Abuse of Weakness is a somewhat forgettable film, deviating away from one of the most fascinating aspects of all; the movie she wants to produce. It’s a shame because it sounds intriguing, so much so, that it would undoubtedly make for a better than film than this offering itself. There is something reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard to this title, in how our lead dreams of making a return to the silver screen, despite the unforeseen circumstances which threw her out. Comparisons to the stunning masterpiece, however, end abruptly there.