Placing yet another strong-willed female protagonist in dicey, sadomasochistic straits, French writer-director Catherine Breillat (“Romance,” “Bluebeard”) tells a story inspired by her real-life experience as a stroke survivor drawn in by a con man in this drama featuring a superb Isabelle Huppert.
A cerebral hemorrhage leads things off.
“Half of my body is dead,” says Maud (Huppert), a confident, successful filmmaker, calling for help.
Horrified at having lost control of her physical self, Maud vows to become an “atomic bomb” if she recovers. Following intense physical therapy, she sees Vilko (Kool Shen), a celebrity con artist, on TV. Liking his “icy, hangdog look,” she casts him in her next movie and makes him her dubious muse of sorts.
Before long, Maud and Vilko become hooked on each other in ways involving power and need. Maud increasingly relies on Vilko for companionship and assistance with her physical disability. Vilko, citing money problems that are affecting his life with his young wife (Laurence Ursino), asks Maud for a substantial loan. Soon, Maud is repeatedly writing checks for Vilko, financially ruining herself.
Breillat isn't the deepest of filmmakers, but she presents disturbing emotions and behavior engrossingly. And whether Maud is adjusting to her clawlike hand, or buying a pair of custom-made black boots (“the handicapped need an S&M look”), or tearfully unable to explain to her family how she allowed Vilko to bankrupt her, Huppert portrays her physical state convincingly and her emotional predicament rivetingly.
Shen, a former rapper, can't compete with Huppert dramatically, but he supplies the raw magnetism Breillat wants in this story whose sexual current is in the undertones.
It all adds up to a modest but satisfying psychodrama about control, pride, vulnerability and self-deception.
REVIEW Abuse of Weakness Three stars Starring Isabelle Huppert and Kool Shen Written and directed by Catherine Breillat Not rated Running time 1 hour, 44 minutes