Tuesday, August 12, 2014

See Isabelle Huppert in all her glory (and more!) in Catherine Breillat's ABUSE OF WEAKNESS

When is not Isabelle Huppert a wonder to watch perform? Nowhere that I can recall. Now, in the new film by Catherine Breillat entitled ABUSE OF WEAK-NESS, Ms Hupert is everything we've come to expect -- and even more. Here she is, as usual, moment-to-moment real and speci-fic and spellbinding. This time, there's an overlay to it all. She is playing a stroke victim who only in degrees wins back the use of her body, and even then, not completely. I'd call Huppert a revelation, except that she always is. Here, she is simply more so.

Ms Breillat, for her part, is a past master at offering up challenging, often politically incorrect movies. With her latest she seems to be pulling back a bit by giving us an easier-to-digest woman-in-trouble tale. But probably not. If the film's title seems, to this American, at least, a play on the popular phrase "abuse of power," it turns out that Abus de faiblesse (the film's French title) doubles as an article of French law (L 122-8 in the Consumer Code,  223-15-2 in the Criminal Code) in which, if one person abuses another who is weak, sick, ignorant or what have you, s/he can be prosecuted. (We could certainly have used something like this in the USA, regarding those crap sub-prime loans from Countrywide and other mortgage lenders that helped bring down our economy, while cheating folk out of their abodes.)

The players here are Maud Shainberg (Ms Huppert, above), a film director somewhat on the cold side and clearly used to having her own way (based on Breillat, perhaps?), and Vilko Piran (an actor who goes by the odd moniker of Kool Shen, below), who, when we and Maud first see him, is chatting away on a TV talk show, telling tales of his time as a con man who cheated the rich out of millions and the poor out of whatever he could get. "This guy is perfect for the lead in my new film," says Maud, and soon they are meeting, and he is charming the director out of lots and lots of Euros.

But who is taking advantage of whom? Both it would seem, though no matter how charming and sexy our Vilko might be (and he's plenty), Maud lets him nowhere near her bed. Yet he is attentive and uber-helpful to this woman, who actually needs all the help she can get. She still has trouble walking and standing and keeping her balance, so Vilko is there for her, tying her shoes and taking her out to eat -- despite what her friends and family have to say about it all. To top it all off, Maud has not yet filmed even a single scene using this guy.

The two leads could hardly be better, often keeping us as off-balance as is Maud herself. And then the film is finished, and we are left wondering if we have simply been watching a case study in how one very smart and successful women gives over completely to a con man who has "abused her weakness," as it were.

Maybe. But thanks to these very fine performances, there just might be more. Even so, this story, as Breillat films it and Huppert and Shen act it, is for me enough. Simply watching Huppert struggle to use her limbs properly or ask the speech therapist how she can come to "laugh" again is worth the price of admission.

From Strand Releasing and running 105 minutes, Abuse of Weakness, opens this Friday, August 15, in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. In Los Angeles, look for it at Laemmle's Royal, opening Aguust 22. Elsewhere? Hope so. In any case, as the distributor is Strand, we can eventually expect a DVD and perhaps streaming to various digital venues.

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