A difficult, yet astonishing, film to watch at this year’s 20th Cinemania Film Festival in Montreal is Abus de Faiblesse (Abuse of Weakness). Shown previously at the COLCOA French Film Festival in L.A. this past April as well as TIFF in Toronto last year, Catherine Breillat’s film shines in the portrayal of human weakness.
Abus de Faiblesse tells the story of a filmmaker, Maud, who undergoes a stroke and consequently becomes a victim to epilepsy, rendering her unable to walk or use her left arm without personal assistance in most everyday activities. Maud is played by the brilliant and very convincing, Isabelle Huppert, who is also known for her role as the French existential detective, Caterine Vauban, in I Heart Huckabees. The dedication to being a character who loses speech and walking mobility is so convincing that there are moments in the film, where as an audience member, you just have to think “Oh c’mon, someone help her out.”
Maud, having being bedridden at the beginning, watches an interview on TV of professed crook, Vilko (played by French rap singer Kool Shen). Upon seeing his remorseless composure and pride from using the mentality and arrogance of wealthy people in order to steal their money, Maud immediately calls her assistant, so Vilko can be the leading star in her future film.
After meeting the first couple of times, the relationship between Vilko and herself soon becomes a complexity: Maud gradually depends on assistance from Vilko (although she has an assistant already) and grows an attachment to the real-life antagonist character she writes her film about. Meanwhile, Vilko takes advantage of her easily manipulated state-of-mind and acts as a reliable caretaker in order to request numerous cheques on a regular basis for thousands of Euros, making her bank account depleted of funds.
The psychological perversion is that she acknowledges his type of character, as the role Vilko is supposed to play in her film is one that beats up his girlfriend to the point of death. Similarly, she should also recognize her own part in this odd relationship of “care”-for-money, since the role of the girlfriend in her future film looks the boyfriend dead in his eyes and mockingly says it does not hurt her even though she is bleeding to death. It is in this, albeit self-inflicted, false oblivion that she continues to give him cheque after cheque after cheque until she is in debt with the bank and finally confesses to her family and lawyer that all of this was happening. She could only explain to them that it was indeed her that coherently signed the cheques, but it was not herself that did it.
Abus de Faiblesse is truly a film that speaks to the complexity of human weakness – that we can conceive of what is morally or ethically wrong, yet because we have this strange desire and capability to satisfy an inexplicable surrender to our weaknesses, we still continue to pursue the act.