Roman Polanski is still one of the most gifted auteurs in film today. His influential films such as ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Chinatown’ put him in the same class of directors as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma. His latest work ‘Venus in Fur’ is actually a play within a play. It’s a film adaptation of David Ives play which was one of the most produced during the 2013-2014 season. The material is tailor-made for Polanski who has a fondness for psychosexual mind games in claustrophobic spaces. Like his 2011 film ‘Carnage,’ also adapted from a play, the story takes place in a confined setting and explores cat-and-mouse power struggles between the sexes. ‘Venus in Fur’ is titillating and provocative that is certain to ignite discussion afterwards over coffee.
When the American playwright received a voicemail from the renowned director that he liked his play and wanted to make it into a film, Ives was beyond ecstatic. Ives spent time at Polanski’s chalet in the Swiss Alps to hammer out the screenplay. He recalls how Polanski’s “command of the nuances of English dialogue was amazing” as he helped sharpen and fine-tune lines. The script is largely faithful to the play with one big exception, instead of taking place in a New York rehearsal room, the action was moved to a Paris theater. It’s a wise choice. It gives the setting a more haunting and dramatic feel to it. Polanski is a master at using confined spaces in his films and ‘Venus in Fur’ is no exception. The nimble camera moves from cinematographer Pawel Edelman and compelling score from Alexandre Desplat give the material a wicked playfulness.
The story opens with a long tracking shot through the streets of Paris into the theater doors. Only the playwright-director Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Amalric) remains after an exhausting day of auditions for his play ‘Venus in Fur.’ He’s ready to leave and meet up with his fiancé for dinner when Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) blows in from the rain. The role calls for a dominatrix and Vanda is dressed for the part even sporting a dog collar. Thomas has no intention of letting Vanda read but there is more to this gum-chewing woman than meets the eye. Her tenacity and quick wit do not go unnoticed by Thomas. She is determined to read for the part and soon Thomas gives in. The stage displays remnants from a poorly done musical adaptation of “Stagecoach!” with a giant cactus (yes, obviously a phallic symbol).
The chemistry between Almalric and Seigner is sinfully delicious. There is no doubt that Almalric is the younger alter-ego of the filmmaker himself. He looks like a young Polanski. In real life, Seigner is Polanki’s wife. She’s been his muse in some of his other films like ‘Bitter Moon,’ ‘Frantic’ and ‘The Ninth Gate.’ Almalric and Seigner are no strangers. They were both excellent in the critically acclaimed film ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ Although the role of Vanda is played by an actress in her twenties, Seigner pulls it off with a mature seductiveness. She’s like a siren. You just cannot keep your eyes off of her. When Vanda reveals her understanding of the character, Thomas is hooked. She impressively has all the lines to the play memorized and even brings key props to the audition. She takes out a vintage 19-century smoking jacket from her bag that fits him perfectly.
The film touches on many themes related to domination and power of the sexes, female objectification and self-deprecation. At first, Thomas as the director is in control of the actress auditioning for the part. Gradually the power shifts from Thomas to Vanda. Seigner is stellar as she toys with Thomas’ insecurities. At one point, Thomas is on his knees begging Vanda for her love like a slave. It’s not clear if he is reading these lines from the script or actually asking Vanda to dominate him sexually. These are adult themes that teeter on the discussion of whether the play is actually art or softcore S&M. ‘Venus in Fur’ is stellar work that reflects real-life through an actress turning the tables on her director. Cinephiles that admire French films should not miss it when it reaches your local art house cinema. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/Q1LZ6JoUkJc.
If you like Polanski, his 2011 film 'Carnage' is worth a rental. Here's my review http://www.examiner.com/review/carnage-movie-review.