The Films of 2014: Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness is, in keeping with the rest of Catherine Breillat’s filmography, an intellectual S&M film about a very unlikely couple.  The dominant partner is a figure for Breillat herself, a strong-willed French writer and filmmaker named Maud.  While recovering from a debilitating stroke, Maud finds herself curiously drawn to a brutish ex-con named Vilko, whom she sees being interviewed on TV late one night.  She contacts him and tells him she wants to cast him in her next movie, keeping him around in the meantime to help her run errands and share meals.  In return, she agrees to write him a series of checks for increasingly large sums, which eventually drive her to the edge of bankruptcy.  (She’s played by the legendary Isabelle Huppert; he’s played by the French rap artist Kool Shen.) 

Why does this smart, sensible woman make such a bad decision?  It’s the question that’s posed directly at the end of the film by Maud’s bewildered friends and family.  Is it possible that her medical condition had left her incapable of good judgment?  When pressed about whether she realized she was signing away her life savings to a known con artist, she says blankly, “It was me, and it wasn’t me…I can’t explain it.”  It’s fitting that Breillat has turned this real-life situation into a film, because it so uncannily resembles the scenario of one of her movies.  A physically weak female intellectual locked in a battle of wills with a cunning, lumpen beefcake: which is in control?  Breillat plays with notions of strength and weakness throughout the film, flipping them to the point of inseparability.  In a roundabout way, Maud's disability becomes a twisted source of power, as it allows her to boss around the strong, able-bodied men who wait on her.  It also leaves her susceptible to victimization.  Is her decision to write those checks—which appears to have been made lucidly—an act of willing submission?  Might this otherwise powerful woman harbor an unconscious wish to be taken advantage of by a dangerous, attractive man?  Leave it to the brilliantly perverse Breillat to imagine a movie about fucking in which there is not a single sex scene.  Instead, her characters fuck each other with money and words.  A cruel, witty film. 

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