Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Back in 2004, Catherine Breillat, the French filmmaker and author responsible for such cinematic provocations as "Romance," "Fat Girl" and "Anatomy of Hell," suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage that affected her entire left side. After five months of hospitalization and painful physical therapy, she recovered, and, in 2007, was able to resume her directorial career with the powerful period piece "The Last Mistress." That same year, she made the acquaintance of notorious con man Christophe Rocancourt when she contemplated casting him opposite model Naomi Campbell in a screen adaptation of her novel "Bad Love." That film would never be made, but over the next 18 months, Breillat charged, Rocancourt would take advantage of her diminished post-stroke capabilities by convincing her to give him a series of "loans" totaling over 800,000 euros. The courts would agree with Breillat, and, in 2012, Rocancourt would be put in prison for taking her money.
To be caught up in a situation like this would be an acute embarrassment for most people—especially those of a prominent position—and many of them would go to extreme lengths to keep as much of a lid on it as possible. Breillat, to put it simply, is not one of those people. In 2009, she wrote a book based on her experience, and, with her latest film, "Abuse of Weakness," she offers up a lightly fictionalized take on the ordeal. This is not the first time that Breillat has mined her own life and work for material—"Sex is Comedy," for example, was a film about a director struggling to shoot a graphic sex scene inspired by her own difficulties in putting together a similar sequence in "Fat Girl"—but this examination of power, greed, emotional manipulation and simple need is gripping and powerful to behold even if you don't know the story behind the story.
The film opens with acclaimed filmmaker Maud Schoenberg (Isabelle Huppert) waking up in the middle of the night to discover that she has no feeling in her left side before collapsing on the floor while trying to summon help. After that comes a wrenching series of scenes in which the once-proud Maud is forced to undergo countless gross physical impositions over the course of several months in order to learn how to walk, talk and even laugh again. Despite nearly a year of treatment and rehab, Maud's steely determination remains ("I've sunk like the Titanic. But if I ever resurface, I'll be like an atomic bomb") and she eventually begins planning a new film involving a sexualized power struggle between a rich and famous woman and the younger, poorer man that she becomes obsessed with, even after things between them become violent.
It is at this point that she wakes up in the middle of the night to see con man Vilko Piran (rapper Kool Shen, a portrait of magnetic insolence) being interviewed on television about his shady past—he brags about having bilked his victims out of more than $135 million—and is fascinated by his unrepentant demeanor. Against the advise of her friends, she decides to cast him in the lead role in her film and right from the start, he begins to insinuate himself in her life in weird ways—during his very first visit to her place, he literally begins climbing up her bookshelves in a move that looks like nothing so much as an animal marking its territory. She quickly falls under his spell and before long, he begins asking her for substantial loans—oh, he has more money than he knows what to do with but those creepy police make it impossible for him to touch it right now—which she bemusedly agrees to give him. Before long, she has given over virtually all of her money and is gradually forced to come to terms with the enormity of what she has done or been coerced into doing.