Director Roman Polanski has picked for his latest project a small film, taken from the stage play of the same name, 'Venus in Fur.' It takes place on one set, a theatre stage - with only a momentary look at the street outside the theater - and with only two actors. The director of the play, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (2007)), has finished a very disappointing audition session and is about to leave the theater when Vanda enters. She's late, she's wet from a shower outside, she's unprepared, boisterous, gum chewing, borish. But as the film progresses, we find her in complete control of herself and Thomas as well. The play withion the film concerns a sado-masochistic relationship which takes place in the 1840's at a health spa. The film itself delves into issues of sexism, S&M and retribution. It's a 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and forgotten 'Story of O' (1954) for the 19th Century. And to a degree. it's interesting to see the psycho-drama evolve. Small cast films and plays are usually psycho-dramas because there isn't much else to do but toy with each other's mind under those artistic constraints.
Ironically, Vanda, who is recognized by Thomas as superb actress. is an emotional and creative dynamo as a person, but a dismal disappointment to me while in audition mode as the monotone, in-control Lady, coincidentally also named Vanda (first hint something more is going on). Emmanuel le Seigneur (Frantic (1988)) superbly plays Vanda (the actress who is auditioning). But to bring Vanda, the play's character, to life she simply drains any spark of vitality and interest from the character.
As for Thomas, it is painfully obvious that he is playing Roman Polanski himself. His physical appearance is a dead ringer for Polanski -- hardly a casting accident. And Seigner has been Mrs. Polanski for the last 25 years. These connections, as well as the intimate nature of the film, makes is a rather uncomfortable family affair to watcy.
I'm not sure whom this film's audience would be. It is not a date movie, certainly not a family movie, chick flick or testosterone directed. Maybe intellectuals and cineasts will appreciate it's subtleties and nuances. It could just be an acquired taste or for its originally intended audience, theater-goers.
Venus in Fur
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: David Ives (play), Roman Polanski (screenplay)
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner
Time: 96 min.
Opening July 11 at Opera Plaza in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.