Virtuosic at embodying in vivid detail the physicality of her characters, Isabelle Huppert has built an impressive career around performances of corporeality. So it’s unsurprising that Huppert would be chosen for Catherine Breillat’s latest, Abuse Of Weakness, in which she bestows another indelible performance.
Huppert plays Maud, a filmmaker who has suffered a physically debilitating stroke. (Some of the tensest scenes consist of Maud simply trying to stand up, or perform a basic exercise.) Maud’s incapacitation is highlighted when she befriends Vilko (Kool Shen), a former con artist whom Maud taps for a role in her new film.
The dynamic that develops between them shapes the narrative: A comfortable member of France’s upper class, Maud is drawn to Vilko’s macho physicality, which evidences a rough history. Vilko is fascinated by Maud, a woman who, incapacitated and living alone, is nevertheless equally strong-willed.
The relationship becomes problematic, however, when Vilko begins asking Maud for loans — but can’t pay them back. Coolly reserved, the film never plays Vilko’s con for overwrought drama. Rather, Breillat is interested in exploring varying affects and states — helplessness (Maud’s), aggression (Vilko’s), and pride (both of theirs) — as they come into conflict.
Breillat’s impressive film is a study of bodies and how we carry them, and it explores the manner in which weakness seeks out strength on an almost primal level, bypassing the higher modes of human thought. Feral physicality is her true subject.