Based on the David Ives play of the same name, Venus in Fur is the latest Roman Polanski picture to skip a usual cinematic trait; expanding a stage show into something larger simply due to the change in visual venue. As in 2011’s underappreciated Carnage, Polanski ignores the conceit that directors must turn plays towards the cinematic, opting instead for the claustrophobia of his story’s settings.
Venus in Fur is itself is about an adaptation, as the director Thomas (the always terrific Mathieu Amalric) works to bring the 1870 novel of the same name to the stage. At the end of a long day of auditions, Thomas is prepping to go home to his wife when Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) barges into the theatre. Thomas declares that Vanda is too late, but she insists with rapid-fire intensity and drama that he must give her an opportunity. She has purchased new clothes for the part, has traveled from afar and it will only take a few minutes; right?
In a lovely piece of framing, Polanski keeps showing Thomas getting closer and closer to the theatre exit, time and again drawn back by Vanda. He finds her allure peculiar. Despite her clumsy nature and flightiness, Vanda knows the ins and outs of the book and play. She’s even willing to call out both the original author and Thomas’ “self-indulgent” whims in the writing. Vanda declares that a story of sadomasochism and lust isn’t reaching its full potential because Thomas won’t give himself over to the passions of it all.
Polanski’s film is an amusing power-play, as Thomas and Vanda’s control over each element of the interaction shifts with every revelation. This gains extra impact via the layering of the script, which plays with the audience once the two characters begin to read through the play itself. Is Vanda truly a deceiver? Is she attempting to manipulate Thomas via his secret arousals? Are those arousals even something Thomas yearns for or just part of the plot?
The movie is at its most enthralling in these scenes, given great potency via Amalric and Seigner, two excellent talents that have worked together in the past in the very different The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Seigner’s impish nature meshes finely with Amalric’s insecurity about his talent and manhood. This isn’t classic Polanski; it’s fun and playful however. A nice summer treat for people looking for something differ on the palette
Venus in Fur opens exclusively at Landmark’s Varsity Theatre tomorrow.