Review: Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness concerns a filmmaker, Maud Shainberg (Isabelle Huppert) who has a stroke and then becomes the victim of a notorious con man, Vilko Piran (Kool Shen). If you know that which the film fairly readily give to you, you know the whole story essentially.

In this film very little is a surprise. It starts with the stroke: quickly and suddenly. However, without belaboring its rather enjoyable pantomime of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly it moves on to Maud being recovered. She is then looking for her next project and sees an interview on TV where Vilko talks candidly of his criminal past. He is not an actor, but she as a director sees something in him and is convinced he is the one for the movie even though he is not a professional actor.

Sadly, the film becomes a protracted and fairly clumsily laid-out self-fulfilling prophecy. Vilko on the television show explains his entire modus operandi. In this statement if the blueprint to how he will view their relationship. Now, the specifics of what he will do may be vague, but the outcome is apparent. He does not appear to be precisely intelligent, and neither did she appear to be that gullible and stupid such that hardly any charm or coersion is used to extract funds from her.

Another aspect of this film that is noteworthy is the performance of Huppert. She is brilliant in the small recovery section. She also nearly singlehandedly manages to keep this film afloat through most of its running time. However, the problems that plague this film not only remain, but seem to be exacerbated as the story progresses. Even giving her character a pass for her initial fascination we also see her psychic decomposition in an altogether disengaging fashion. She is initially tough and bullheaded. Tacks employed by her favorite conman never change, her resistance and rebellion just lessen over time.

Even if all that were forgivable there is a seemingly tacked-on closing expository scene, which as one might expect, does not offer any real resolution. Instead we watch her confusion as she thinks back and in hindsight tries to decipher why she acted as she did. It illuminates neither the narrative, nor her character in any real way so it could be truncated, if not excised entirely. It seems as if its crafted for potentially frustrated audience members, which at this point I most certainly was, but it offers no closure merely more running time.

That ending does play into a systemic temporal abuse that this film employs. Its pace dies as slow a death as its protagonists will dwindles. Some of that seems to be by design as the narrative chronology encompasses a long period. Yet there comes a point where the illustration has been made and the whole suffers.

There are many stories that are self-fulfilling prophecies. That is a given narrative truism: knowing where this story is going from the beginning does not doom the story to be of little to know interest. The protagonist knowingly going into a precarious situation does make it a harder trick to turn, and does render him or her less identifiable. There is a distancing we feel from events, a torpor of voyeurism that creates a hollow experience. At the beginning and the end, at Maud’s most comprehensible and incomprehensible emotional ebbs, we are at our closest to her; in the interim we are persistently pushed away and forced to hold on for dear life if we care, either in empathetic or morbid way. In the end we care in no way and are left bereft of visceral interaction with the story and numbed from lack of palpable intellectual stimuli.