Controversial director Roman Polanski's latest film, Venus in Fur (opening today) only features two actors and one setting, much like the play it's based on. But just like Polanski's last film Carnage - which was itself an adaptation of the stage play "Gods of Carnage" - Polanski skillfully and successfully captures the essence of the source material.
Polanski's real-life wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, plays Vanda, a crass, confident actress who barges into a French theater just as auditions for a play have let out. The play's director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), is all alone, frustrated and annoyed that he has not yet found an actress capable of playing the lead in his adaptation of "Venus in Fur." The original novel's author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is where we get the word "masochist" from and where "S & M" is derived. In other words, the subject matter here is quite provocative.
But beginning with the jumpy score in the very first scene, followed by Vanda's bold entrance, the film at first plays as a comedy. Thomas has just finished seeing a number of bumbling idiots and here comes another. But after being coaxed into giving her a read of a scene, Thomas discovers that Vanda seems to have an impeccable knowledge of her character. He is drawn to her.
What comes next is a back-and-forth battle of the sexes. Vanda and Thomas read lines from the play - a story that again contains sexual pleasure derived from punishment and humiliation - and then they seamlessly converse out of character. Or is it the other way around? Thomas and Vanda are drawn to each other, or their characters are, or both. Their interaction drives the movie forward as their passion builds more and more intense as the film goes on.
Seigner gives a wonderful performance as a woman who has seen it all, while Amalric is also strong while mostly reacting to Vanda's lead. No other actors appear on screen in the film.
Polanski continues to show his artistry while tackling small films as of late. Venus in Fur may not be his most memorable work - it does seem to drag on even at 96 minutes - but it's another compelling piece of work by a man once convicted of a sex crime, who seems unafraid to tackle controversial material.
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minute, Not Rated
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Based on the play by David Ives, that was based on the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Adapted by David Ives and Roman Polanski
Directed by Roman Polanski (Carnage, The Pianist, Frantic, Tess, Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 8, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time