BFI London Film Festival: ‘Abuse of Weakness’ & ‘Don Jon’

Matt Micucci checks out Catherine Breillat’s latest, ‘Abuse of Weakness’ and ‘Don Jon’, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature film debut, which screened at the 56th BFI London Film Festival

 

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Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat)

Catherine Breillat gets more personal than she has ever been in her entire career in her latest film Abuse of Weakness. The story is almost entirely autobiographical, and one of the only things that are changed are the names.

Maud is a director who suffers a stroke. As she is recovering, she watches a con artist being interviewed on television and starts entertaining the idea of casting him in the lead part of her new film project. Soon enough the two become acquainted and she finds herself willingly loaning him large sums of money.

Despite the nature of the story, Breillat is neither spiteful nor vengeful in her telling of the events. In fact, she even points to the fact that she might have had it coming. Nevertheless, she seems to be entirely focused on making the whole story seem very authentic and avoids stylistic embellishments. Breillat also avoids her characteristic strange casting antics by giving the  role of her cinematic alter ego to one of the best French actresses of the last twenty years, Isabelle Huppert. Her performance as the proud yet vulnerable Maud is quite remarkable, particularly due to the role’s physically demanding nature. The same cannot be said about Kool Shen, the French rapper who lacks the ability to make the con artist seem a charmer or a rogue. The two end up lacking chemistry and this makes the film drag particularly in its seemingly interminable middle part.

However, Breillat can still be praised for her honesty and for bringing her own personal experiences on the big screen, coming close to a documentary style and unafraid of seeming uncomfortable.

 

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Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Gordon-Levitt, one of the brightest stars of this generation of American cinema, has made the transition in his feature film debut as director and screenwriter. Don Jon is the story of a guy who, despite his womanising streak, still loves porn better than real sex.

Apparently influenced by early Scorsese films and Saturday Night Fever, Don Jon plays around with interesting elements – among them even the theme of religion. Yet, despite the premise, this is hardly a compelling examination of modern society but rather a nicely packaged romantic comedy with a childish obsession for sexual taboos. Furthermore, its nature is quite bigoted.

Scarlett Johansson in her turn as the titular character’s object of desire delivers a fun and vibrant performance and is among the best things in the film. However, Don Jon can’t help but feel disappointing, most of all for being provocative rather than daring and for using an approach as realistic as the clips that its lead character obsesses over.

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