Catherine Breillat

Abuse of Weakness

In 2004, French director Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl, The Last Mistress) suffered a massive stroke that left one side of her body paralyzed. In 2007, she met a con man that would eventually bilk her out of over 700,000 Euros. In 2009, she wrote a book about the experience. In 2012, con can Christopher Rocancourt was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. In 2013, she made a movie about it. Understanding that the story of Abuse of Weakness (or “abus de faiblesse,” a French legal term that perfectly describes the film at hand) is actually Breillat’s story isn’t essential to either the film’s power or strength, but it sure helps clarify some things (a few of which haven’t been clarified in Breillat’s own life). Isabelle Huppert stars as bawdy, whipsmart Maud, the film’s version of Breillat, who also happens to be a French director with a signature style (at one point, her work is compared to porn). Within the film’s opening seconds, Maud is in the throes of a stroke, all while tucked into the seeming safety of her own sleigh bed. It’s evident almost immediately that Huppert is about to embark on a true full body performance, and the actress delivers in spades – her body contortions, facial expressions, and lack of mobility are never less than entirely believable, and the result is a terrifyingly uncomfortable film that never lets up on either its audience or its leading lady.

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Catherine Breillat’s new film The Sleeping Beauty (La belle endormie) marks yet another entry in what seems to be a growing set of preoccupations for the feminist auteur: the costume drama and the fairy tale. In her follow-up to 2009’s Bluebeard, The Sleeping Beauty is her second consecutive deconstruction of a Charles Perrault fairytale, and her third past-set movie when taking into account 2007’s The Last Mistress. This is an interesting transition for a filmmaker whose previous work focused frankly and explicitly on contemporary gender politics and the exercise of power through the human body. Breillat’s intellectual obsessions remain largely the same even as her aesthetic and spatiotemporal settings have changed, but Bluebeard and The Last Mistress, while a welcome transition into ostensibly “new” territory, were in this writer’s opinion far from her best work. It’s difficult to deny a feeling of rejuvenation throughout The Sleeping Beauty — a joyful embrace of carnival ambivalence in both tone and content that looks and feels inspired, a film that explores (in a way unprecedented in her work) the potentially irreverent (and, let’s face it, fun) excesses of the medium while still providing room for Breillat to exercise her signature mode of critique.

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Thanks to Netflix, it has become easier to watch controversial movies at home, but it’s also harder to find the quality. Often times a movie’s description is more misleading than helpful and may lead a person to feel duped once the credits have rolled. Following the website-generated suggestions only takes you so far—or right into the awaiting arms of something too line-crossing for a newbie – and a quick Google search turns up pages and pages of porn. I think it’s time someone makes this search a little less difficult. Yes, there are tons of lists out there compiled by reputable sites detailing which sex-centric movies are the quintessential, the most titillating, and even the most disgusting, but what if you just want to put your toe into the sex movie pool? You can have a movie that’s all about sex but doesn’t have one hot sex scene or a drop of chemistry in it…hello Last Tango in Paris!

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Attention film geeks: Angela Ismailos’s new documentary sits ten directing icons down and gets dirty with them, their inspirations and their processes.

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For an industry that is viewed reductively by much of middle America as being politically left-leaning to the point of being out-of-touch with the rest of the country, Hollywood has shown a stagnant lack of progress in terms of gender equality. Actresses’ careers are in jeopardy as soon as they hit 35, it always seems like there’s a dearth of good roles for women, and much of the business behind the camera is dominated by a boys’ club. Particularly striking are the lack of female directors.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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