Roman Polanski’s 2011 film, Carnage, was a moderately pleasing comedy of manners, based on a four-character play. His latest, Venus in Fur, comes from a two-person play and is even more delightful. (What’s next? A one-man show? An episode of Orphan Black?) Set in Paris, it brings a late-arriving actress, Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), out of a thunderstorm into a theater, where she hopes to audition for a play, Venus in Fur. But everyone has left except for the playwright/director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), and he is tired after watching a succession of ill-suited women audition for the female lead, also named Vanda. Nevertheless, Vanda persuades Thomas to let her audition, with him reading the other character’s lines. They end up reading the entire play, and the film tells the story of that run-through.
The ur-text for the film and the play-within-a-film is Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, which tells the story of a man who falls for a woman and wishes to be dominated by her. Polanski’s movie is mirrors and epicycles and echoes: Seigner is Polanski’s wife, and Amalric looks like a Chinatown-era Polanski, handsomed up a bit. Vanda and Thomas flip-flop power relationships, though she generally dominates (she arrives with preternatural knowledge of play and playwright); one could read into this an apologia for Polanski’s relationships with women, but the film clearly has deeper layers than that. But enough of this complexity! If all you make of this is two splendid, well-matched actors in clever interplay for an hour and a half–well, don’t beat yourself up.
Venus in Fur (reviews)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by David Ives and Roman Polanski, based on a play by Ives, inspired by the novella Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Running time: 96 minutes
Award: Best Director, 2014 César Awards
DVD release date: October 14, 2014
* * *
Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà tells the story of a loan shark whose brutal ways are disrupted when a woman claiming to be his mother shows up. The precision with which the film is made and a gesture toward redemption in the story do not quite justify the sadism inflicted upon the onscreen victims and the audience, with or without the story’s muddled ending.