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Review: ‘Venus in Fur’ is playful and sensual blend of theater and cinema

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Venus in Fur

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There are plays and there are movies. There are plays based on movies and movies based on plays. Most of the time, they are all able to stay fairly separate from one another, but Venus in Fur wonderfully blurs the lines between these two classic mediums. Throw in that it is also inspired by an infamous book – and that the book, 1870’s Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, draws upon themes of female dominance and sadomasochism – and the new movie, based on the play, inspired by the book, sounds very, very intriguing.

Venus in Fur is a two character, one location film set exclusively in a Paris theater. After a long day of disappointing auditions, Thomas, a frustrated playwright/director is about to head home in the rain. A frantic woman, Vanda, bulldozes through the door, bowls over his objections, and talks her way into an audition, despite being hours late. Reluctant, but unable to resist, he agrees to read a quick scene with her just to get her out the door as quickly as possible. He soon becomes transfixed by her, mesmerized by not only by her performance and understanding of the play, but also her seemingly unexplainable insight into him as well. Over the next two hours, as both the play and playwright are deconstructed, their roles and power positions shift back and forth in a wicked blend of reality and fantasy.

Who is this mysterious actress, Vanda (which is coincidentally the same name as the character she is supposed to be auditioning for)? How does she know so much about the playwright’s thoughts and desires? Is she real, fantasy, or simply a writer’s internal struggle with his own work?

The film is very playful, not only in its exploration of gender roles, desire, psychosexual themes, but also in its design. Not beholden by the limitations of live theater, the film is able to use the best of both worlds. Lighting and set design from the theatrical world, stylish editing and sound design from the cinematic.

Based on acclaimed play by David Ives, Venus in Fur is directed by famed director Roman Polanski, who has his own controversial sexual past. The film stars French actor Mathieu Amalric as Thomas, and it is hard not see Amalric as somewhat of a doppelganger for Polanski – they even look alike. Adding another dimension to this, the film also stars Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s wife. Both performances are terrific - theatrical and cinematic in their execution, especially Seigner, who transfixes the audience just as her character does with the playwright.

Though Polanski has continued to make solid films in his later years (Venus in Fur, Carnage, The Ghost Writer), he is not making the inarguable genre classics he used to (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Tenant) – except for 2002’s Oscar-winning, The Pianist, maybe. But instant classic or not, Venus in Fur is one of the best films of the year so far - a fun, sensual, and thought-provoking work on the artisitc process and sexuality.

* * * * out of 5 stars

Venus in Fur opens Friday, July 25 at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. The film will screen at 9:30 p.m. nightly.

So come out to the Zeitgeist and take advantage of this unique film-going experience and all the Zeitgeist Arts Center has to offer. And by doing so, help support one the premier alternative arts center in the South. You can visit the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center’s website here.

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