Abuse of Weakness is a plot point stuck on repeat. Halfway through French writer/director Catherine Breillat’s film I wanted to rush up to projection booth, yank out the digital cartridge and blow on it like an old Nintendo game.
A stroke afflicted filmmaker, Maud Schoenberg (Isabelle Huppert), casts a well-known con-man, Vilko Piran (Kool Shen) in a film she has in pre-production after spotting him spruiking a memoir on a talk show. To no surprise whatsoever, it’s a big mistake.
Breilliat’s film is at its best when tightly focused on Maud and her condition. In the opening scene Maud wakes to discover she can’t feel one side of her body. Terrified, she begins slapping her skin in search for a response. Breilliat keeps the camera zoned in on Maud as the terror unfolds. The nightmare continues as Maud wakes in a hospital to discover her body has contorted and frozen in places. Maud’s hand is stuck in fist and Breilliat creates an incredible amount of tension as Maud attempts to pry her hand open, fingers straining, threatening to snap like taught wires. Huppert is able to convey the body horror shock of a stroke and the aftermath in a very astute performance that aches with tragedy throughout Abuse of Weakness.
These flashes of brilliance from Breilliat and Huppert continually pulse for the duration of the film but are mired by a story that plods in the obvious. Vilko is bad news and Maud knows it from the outset but she’s a sucker for punishment despite Breilliat writing a strong willed character; best showcased in her recovery and success as a filmmaker. Vilko keeps asking for money and Maud keeps writing cheques. Maud is slowly drained financially but it’s of no significant consequence or surprise. A little intrigue comes from the psychology of the relationship between the host (Maud) and the parasite (Vilko) but even that notion becomes tired.
After wading through the repetition of Maud’s financial decline that also signifies a sinking interest in the film, Breilliat and Huppert go for a grandstand finish with an exceptional monologue that almost makes the monotony worth it. Almost.
[rating=2] and half
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW