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Aug 15, 2014

Catherine Breillat's "Abuse of Weakness" Opens in Theaters this Month

French writer-director Catherine Breillat consistently portrays the lives of women and girls. (Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing.)


Last October, after a New York Film Festival screening of Abuse of Weakness (2013), I got to speak to its writer-director, Catherine Breillat. That interview has just been published in Film Journal International and can be found here: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/news-and-features/features/movies/e3i1bc2d2cee723c26498137c7c6dfaded2

I last interviewed the French filmmaker for her wonderful reinvisioning of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, The Sleeping Beauty (2011). (“Rewriting Fairy Tales, Revisiting Female Identity: An Interview with Catherine Breillat.” Cineaste, XXXVI, no. 3 (2011): 32-35.) A PDF of that article appears under "Archives," to the left of this column. I also spoke with her in 1999 after the release of Romance; a PDF of that article, “Quest for Romance,” will be posted soon.

Abuse of Weakness is a semi-autobiographical movie, based on the events that followed Ms. Breillat’s stroke in 2004 when she cast the notorious conman Christophe Rocancourt for a role in her upcoming movie. Taking advantage of her illness, Rocancourt stole about $800,000 from Ms. Breillat; she then filed an abus de faiblesse lawsuit against him, for which the film is named. Rocancourt was found guilty and is now serving a jail term.

This is Breillat’s fourth film since her stroke, and it is a courageous, unstinting portrayal of her continuing struggle to overcome a debilitating loss of balance, and to get on with her work. Abuse of Weakness stars Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, La Cérémonie) in an outstanding performance as a movie director whose stroke and subsequent recovery is complicated by her dependence on Vilko (Kool Shen), a convicted criminal.  

All fourteen of Ms. Breillat’s movies as a writer-director are intended for adults, and are significant because of the filmmaker’s commitment to depicting the stories of women and girls. She is best-known for Fat Girl (2001), a controversial masterpiece that follows a pair of adolescent sisters on vacation with their parents. Ms. Breillat’s girl characters are a defiant bunch who flaunt social norms and live according to the dictates of their heart—as she does, unapologetic and without shame.