“In late-2004, Catherine Breillat suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body and precipitated a five-month hospital stay,” writes Darren Hughes at the top of a lively interview with the filmmaker for the Notebook. “After learning to walk again, she soon returned to work, finalizing pre-production on The Last Mistress (2007). Her next project was to have been an adaption of her novel, Bad Love, starring Naomi Campbell and Christophe Rocancourt, a notorious criminal who, by the time Breillat met him, had already served five years in an American prison for defrauding his victims out of millions of dollars…. Borrowing small sums at first, he would eventually swindle her out of nearly 700,000 euros, a harrowing ordeal that Breillat first described at length in her book, Abus de faiblesse, and now explores again in a film of the same name.”
“Abuse of Weakness stars Isabelle Huppert (in her first collaboration with the director) as Maud, a filmmaker so willful that not even a brain hemorrhage will deter her from continuing her next project,” writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum. “Watching late-night TV, she comes across Vilko (French rapper Kool Shen), a high-profile swindler boasting of his exploits on a chat show. Transfixed, she is determined to cast him… What follows is a series of psychic seductions, the cocky, lupine flimflammer turned on by Maud’s indomitability (‘You’ve got balls like a guy’), the physically debilitated, haughty auteur secretly delighting in the dutiful, if bullying, attention shown by her new star… Simultaneously an unsparing recapitulation of her bad choices—her bad love—and a disavowal of them, Abuse of Weakness is not a tale of victimization but of Breillat score-settling with herself.”
“Catherine Breillat is a master at depicting women in peril, while at the same time imputing to them questionable character traits,” writes Ela Bittencourt in Slant. “Like the married seductress of a teenage boy in Brief Crossing, or a precociously wise Marie-Catherine in Bluebeard, her latest anti-heroine… is a woman who walks the line between manipulation and victimhood…. Enmeshed with Maud, we’re left in the dark as to her motivations. This does nicely for stressing how opaque the subconscious can be, but isn’t always satisfying, as the film teeters between uneasy naturalism and the grotesque.”
“With her customary genius for baring a character’s soul while guarding some private place at her core, Huppert plays Maud’s cards close to the vest,” writes Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door. “Does she find Vilko’s fake ardor amusing? Start to believe it and feel the same way? String him along so he’ll stay interested in her film—or maybe just in her? Appreciate the fact that he treats her like a force to be reckoned with, not a person with disabilities? The script leaves us guessing, while the actress signals all of those feelings and more, at one time or another, before settling into the imperious calm of her final scene. ‘It must have been me, because I did it,’ she tells family members and lawyers after losing everything. ‘It was me, but it wasn’t me.'”
“Breillat is as enormously self-critical as she is self-absorbed,” writes Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker. And “Alain Marcoen’s cinematography is gorgeous, even if the exteriors are in otherwise non-photogenic parts of Paris—pedestrian bridges and bland surroundings in working-class neighborhoods and unattractive modern building facades around town.”
Updates, 10/14: Anna Tatarska talks with Breillat here in Keyframe. For Time Out New York‘s Keith Uhlich, “Abuse of Weakness feels like a personal exorcism—unsentimental in its presentation of illness and especially tough (neither apologetic nor pitiable) in the way it views the often-irrational behavior of Breillat’s onscreen surrogate. It’s another fascinating entry in the director’s ongoing exploration of the sadistic and masochistic facets of human behavior.” And at Twitch, Christopher Bourne finds Abuse “bravely confessional yet strangely detached and abstract.”
Update, 10/19: Héctor Llanos Martínez talks with Breillat for Cineuropa.