Published Sep 25, 2013In 2004, Catherine Breillat (the controversial auteur known for biting deconstructions of gender relations, primarily in a sexual capacity, relating to the detachment from, or relationship with, the physical body) suffered a stroke after shooting Anatomy of Hell, a film incidentally about the consequentiality of corporeal attunement. Though experiencing an almost ironic, literal revulsion of bodily function, albeit removed from the allusion of menstrual blood as a perverse illustrator of feminine fragility and projected impurity present in Hell, her aim was to press on, adapting her novel, Bad Love, to film.
As we know now, being familiar with Breillat's works of late — those interpreting male texts about female objectification and performative gender role typification in literary adaptations and fairy tales — Bad Love was never made. At the time, Breillat, having a preoccupation with casting actors to be a part in her work rather than act it — notoriously casting French porn star Rocco Siffredi where a stoic, sexual aggressor was appropriate — felt that conman Christophe Rocancourt would suit her latest film, despite being a criminal and not being an actor.
Abuse of Weakness, Breillat's second semi-autobiographical film, after the surprisingly accessible and comic Sex is Comedy (about her experiences making À ma soeur), begins here. Maud Schoenberg (Isabelle Huppert), a controversial director of note, suffers a stroke that limits the mobility on one side of her body, but tenaciously maintains an independent lifestyle, deciding to cast conman Vilko Paran (Kool Shen) in her latest movie after seeing him on TV during her recovery period.
In meeting her, he admits that his means to con money out of people of note was to flatter their ego, reminding them of their power and intelligence to incite complacency and collaboration, something that Schoenberg acknowledges but shrugs off, pleased to have the ability to demand the man of her choosing into her home and a position of subjugation. His disposition, being a male of limited grace and candour, and obvious physical dominance, is, as it seems, the auteur's muse. The sheer roughness of character and the simultaneous emotional and physical threat he represents contrast with her inability to assuage her lack of bodily cooperation, thrilling the presumably numb portion of the ego desexualized and marginalized by illness.
Breillat's unsentimental depiction of bodily struggles, with Schoenberg fighting to put on clothes and feed herself, is, as a visual representation, a psychological deconstruction. Despite being an esteemed artist, few people demonstrate much concern or interest in her plight, leaving Paran, ostensibly an employee that perpetually flatters her ego through flirtatious calls and sheer acknowledgement, helping her with basic mobility issues. It's why her casual, deliberately carefree reaction to his request to borrow money makes sense, in a superficial and metaphoric capacity, ensuring that he'll stick around while giving her a sense of power and usefulness in a dynamic where her passivity, despite her inner desires, has no real sexual component.
It's interesting that Abuse of Weakness, though accessible by sheer merit of being bound to a tangible reality, reiterates Breillat's constant power play with gender politics. The monstrosity of the female body is again the subject of male exploitation, only with an intense psychological component driven by physical frailty as a hyperbolized mode of victimization at the hands of male entitlement and detachment.
Though the detachment here isn't in the form of physical gratification and the terror of, and need to violate, the female form, the lack of emotional engagement on the part of Paran, mentally raping a woman in a prone position, isn't overly different from Elena's loss of virginity in A ma soeur or the female's employment of a homosexual to examine sexuality he deems putrid in Hell.
There's a perpetual imbalance conscious of the role the victim plays in a game of cerebral and physical dominance with a predator they've engaged. (Iris)