Abuse of Weakness Review | London Film Festival 2013

Abuse of Weakness Review Abuse of Weakness is a pairing of two French cinema greats. It stars one of the country’s most prolific actresses Isabelle Huppert, still effortlessly beautiful at sixty and with an ever powerful screen presence. It’s directed by Catherine Breillat, who is known for her films that focus on the plights of women, such as Fat Girl, The Last Mistress, Bluebeard, 36 Fillette. Her most recent is a semi-autobiographical tale with personal roots. Huppert plays a wealthy middle-aged filmmaker Maud, whose films are as controversial as the roles Huppert herself chooses. Maud is domineering, confident and independent but as suffered a stroke that leaves her paralysed on one side of her body. As a proud woman, she struggles with the constant assistance she now requires for daily activities, disguising her loneliness and embarrassment with an air of self mockery.

Inspiration for Maud’s next film comes when she watches an ex con-man being interviewed on television after his prison stint for fraud. His name is Vilko (Khool Shan) and he has gained fame and notoriety by victimizing rich families out of their fortunes. His candid bluntness about his crime and his lack of remorse create quite the impression on Maud. For her, he perfectly encompass the latest character she has created, and she must have him star in her film.

Inevitably history repeats itself in an entirely implausible way, in that Maud doesn’t seem to require much persuasion of any sort to comply to his demands. The two make some sort of connection and become close, albeit not necessarily in a romance or sexual way. He rings her constantly, and she enjoys the attention. He is brutal, violent and misogynistic whilst she is delicate and refined, leading the relationship to not seem real in any way whatsoever. Soon enough he is duping her out of her savings – and she is entirely submissive – simply signing the cheques away with a faint smile on her face for his “business ventures” until she can no longer pay for food. Exactly why she does this isn’t clear – not to the audience or indeed to herself – and the unsatisfying ending brings no explanation, all Maud has to say is “it was me, and wasn’t me.”Indeed, Brelliat went through a similar ordeal herself, as after a similar stroke she hired the con man Christophe Rocancourt and offered him 25,000 euros to write a film script, going on to give him even more money that she would never see again. Given the personal roots, one would think the ordeal would be more convincing.

The film wants to explore the impressionability of human nature and the relationship between control and power. Maud almost seems to enjoy the patriarchal command that this man has over her, going into a sort of trance until it is too late. Despite the talent, Abuse of Weakness remains all too distanced from its subjects. Hubbert, as always, is fantastic but her acting is the only solace in this incredibly dull film. Considering the potential of the storyline, the film is remarkably flat and all too subtle. There are no emotional, dramatic peaks to keep us interested. I certainly heard some snores in the audience.

This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).

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