Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' First Official Look: Jared Leto As The Joker In 'Suicide Squad' First Official Look: Jared Leto As The Joker In 'Suicide Squad' Joss Whedon Says He Earned More Making 'Dr. Horrible' Than 'The Avengers,' Weighs In On Marvel Vs. DC Joss Whedon Says He Earned More Making 'Dr. Horrible' Than 'The Avengers,' Weighs In On Marvel Vs. DC Tom Hardy Met Mel Gibson And Made Him A Bracelet, Says Michael Fassbender Was "The Sh*t" In School Tom Hardy Met Mel Gibson And Made Him A Bracelet, Says Michael Fassbender Was "The Sh*t" In School Native Actors Walk Off Set Of Adam Sandler's 'Ridiculous 6' Over Disrespectful, Insulting Script Native Actors Walk Off Set Of Adam Sandler's 'Ridiculous 6' Over Disrespectful, Insulting Script Watch: Johnny Depp Rages As Whitey Bulger In First Trailer For Gangster Tale 'Black Mass' Watch: Johnny Depp Rages As Whitey Bulger In First Trailer For Gangster Tale 'Black Mass' Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' And More Added To Cannes Film Festival Lineup Gaspar Noe's 3D 'Love' And More Added To Cannes Film Festival Lineup First Look: Johnny Depp Goes Gangster In As Whitey Bulger In 'Black Mass' First Look: Johnny Depp Goes Gangster In As Whitey Bulger In 'Black Mass' Watch: Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, Michael Fassbender And More Talk The Art Of Acting Watch: Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway, Michael Fassbender And More Talk The Art Of Acting Review: Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Starring Robert Downey Jr. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson & More Review: Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Starring Robert Downey Jr. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson & More Watch: Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, And More Talk The Art Of Filmmaking Watch: Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, And More Talk The Art Of Filmmaking Christopher Nolan's Favorite Sequence From His Movies Is The Airplane Kidnapping Scene From 'The Dark Knight Rises' Christopher Nolan's Favorite Sequence From His Movies Is The Airplane Kidnapping Scene From 'The Dark Knight Rises' Joss Whedon Calls Edgar Wright's 'Ant-Man' "The Best Script Marvel Ever Had," Warns Of Serialized Moviemaking Joss Whedon Calls Edgar Wright's 'Ant-Man' "The Best Script Marvel Ever Had," Warns Of Serialized Moviemaking The 41 Most Anticipated Movies Of Summer 2015 The 41 Most Anticipated Movies Of Summer 2015 Watch: First Teaser For 'Star Wars: Rogue One,' Plot Details Confirmed Watch: First Teaser For 'Star Wars: Rogue One,' Plot Details Confirmed The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki

TIFF Review: Catherine Breillat’s 'Abuse Of Weakness' Starring Isabelle Huppert

The Playlist By Christopher Schobert | The Playlist September 10, 2013 at 4:31PM

It’s unlikely a filmmaker brought a more personal narrative project to the Toronto International Film Festival than Catherine Breillat. The “Fat Girl” and “Romance” director’s 14th film, “Abuse of Weakness,” is a strange, unsettling, and difficult-to-penetrate creation based on the most trying period of the acclaimed French filmmaker’s life. In 2004, Breillat suffered a sudden stroke, leading to a long recovery. A few years later, while still recovering, Breillat met a noted con artist named Christophe Rocancourt, an individual who would have shockingly destructive effect on her life. She was interested in Rocancourt to play the lead in an upcoming film, but what occurred for close to two years did not involve the making of a movie. (In fact, that film never went before cameras.) Instead, she gave Rocancourt loans for almost 700,000 euros, wiping out her savings.
3
Abuse Of Weakness, Huppert

It’s unlikely a filmmaker brought a more personal narrative project to the Toronto International Film Festival than Catherine Breillat. The “Fat Girl” and “Romance” director’s 14th film, “Abuse of Weakness,” is a strange, unsettling and difficult-to-penetrate creation based on the most trying period of the acclaimed French filmmaker’s life. In 2004, Breillat suffered a sudden stroke, leading to a long recovery. A few years later, while still recovering, Breillat met a noted con artist named Christophe Rocancourt, an individual who would have a shockingly destructive effect on her life. She was interested in Rocancourt to play the lead in an upcoming film, but what occurred for close to two years did not involve the making of a movie. (In fact, that film never went before cameras.) Instead, she gave Rocancourt loans for almost 700,000 euros, wiping out her savings.

Rocancourt was eventually convicted of taking Breillat’s money and sent to prison, and Breillat turned the experience into a book chronicling her ordeal. Now comes “Abuse of Weakness,” with France’s greatest actress, Isabelle Huppert, in the lead. She plays Maud, a filmmaker who we first see writhing in pain in the middle of suffering a stroke. Breillat’s camera has always been unflinching, and in the film’s first section, it movingly observes the struggles of recovery. Soon, she returns home and ponders her next act. One night, she spots the thuggish, charismatic Villko (Kool Shen, a French rapper) on television, and she is spellbound. Maud invites him for a meeting, and he quickly strolls around as if he is at home—taking books, sprawling out on the sofa. He agrees to star in her film, and rather ominously tells her that he’ll be coming around…

And so he does. For the majority of the almost two-hour film, we watch as Villko comes and goes in and out of Maud’s life. Often, he seems caring, even aroused. Yet mostly he asks for money—money that Maud provides. She occasionally refers to “loans,” and at several junctures Villko speaks of paying her back. But the loans continue until Maud, still showing some effects of her stroke, can offer no more. Her money was gone. So does Breillat want the audience to see Maud—and, by extension, herself—as a victim? Watching the film, it never seems as if Maud is not in control of her mental state, or ever threatened by Villko. It is likely that the director herself does not quite know how to classify Maud. At the very end of the film, Maud tells her family, “It was me, and it wasn’t me.” The complexity of the situation, and the characters, is fascinating. Yet, as an audience member, it is hard not to identify with Maud’s adult children. They ask her hard questions she cannot answer.

“Abuse of Weakness” is structured rather simply, with a clear start and finish, yet must be one of the most unconventional con artist tales ever filmed. Perhaps too unconventional. It defies “liking” or “disliking,” instead merely presenting the situation without analysis or even great emotion. Yet it works, thanks to Breillat’s honesty and her talented performers. The film’s greatest coup is its casting, specifically Huppert. It is hard to think of another actress who could capture so many layers—confusion, intelligence, dependence, upset. And Kool Shen is every bit her equal, coming across as natural, likable and even charming. Huppert and Shen make many of their encounters humorous thanks to their odd rapport. Yet there is always a subtext, and a suggestion that something is very wrong here.

“Abuse of Weakness” is a frustrating experience, yet one that feels utterly unique and relentlessly watchable. For Breillat, it represents something of a comeback after the barely seen “Bluebeard” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” but more than that, it seems to be a film that she needed to make. If making “Abuse of Weakness” was a necessary step in Catherine Breillat’s recovery, then it surely ranks as one of the most important—if not the most important—projects of her career. That she was able to take the darkest period of her life and turn it into art shows that the director is even braver than we thought she was. [B+]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival to date by clicking here.

Abuse Of Weakness, Huppert (skip)
Abuse Of Weakness, Huppert (skip)

This article is related to: Catherine Breillat, Isabelle Huppert , Abuse Of Weakness, TIFF, Toronto International Film Festival, Review, Reviews


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates