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Friday, August 15, 2014


Courtesy of Strand Releasing
2013, 105 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

This review was originally published on October 15, 2013 during the New York Film Festival.

Catherine Breillat's audacious autobiographical new film Abuse of Weakness is as uncompromising and horrifying as its title suggests, but is also a contemplative, moving self-study of a woman recovering from a stroke who is taken advantage of by a con man.  Featuring the female performance of the year from the always-astounding Isabelle Huppert, Abuse of Weakness is a true work of art by a gutsy filmmaker.

Abuse opens with the Breillat character, Maud, having a stroke.  This scene is filmed with a cold, detached style that gives the audience a taste of what they're in for.  Breillat wants us to know that this isn't going to be a mushy, sentimental film of a woman's struggle to overcome her horrible circumstances.  No, this is going to be a realistic film full of the horrors of real life.  Breillat's precise, beautiful framing of each shot during the opening stroke sequence informs the audience that they're in the hands of a master.

However, under all of the coldness on the surface, there is a humanity running underneath the surface.  When Maud wakes in the hospital, she says all she wants to do is laugh again.  This moving moment shows that there's a soul beneath the cold exterior of Maud.  Even the hardest humans have the need to laugh and for Breillat, a filmmaker known for her cold provocations, to include this in her film shows that there is a human below her coldness.

Isabelle Huppert (The Piano TeacherAmour), an actress known for her disturbing, physical performances is, yet again, astounding in Abuse of Weakness.  Huppert is a recognizable actress due to the fact that she appears in so many films, but during Abuse, I completely forgot I was watching her.  Huppert digs into the complicated mind of Maud and makes sense of the jumbles inside.  For the majority of the film, Maud is physically impaired and Huppert rises to the challenge, portraying every physical limitation and completely convincing me that she had actually suffered a stroke.  Huppert makes us feel for Maud; she creates a real person with whom we can simultaneously sympathize and want to chastise for her naïve behavior.

Overall, Abuse of Weakness is a triumph on every level and was one of the more memorable experiences at NYFF.  It's always best not knowing much about the film you're about to experience and  Abuse of Weakness is the perfect illustration of that.  While I know about Breillat's films and I knew the story, it was fantastic not having read too many opinions of it or having seen any trailers.  This is simply an extraordinary film made by a brilliant director and one of the world's greatest actresses working in perfect sync.


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