Director: Roman Polanski
Studio: R.P. Productions
Stars: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Gender roles, sexuality, art, power and desire got a disturbing and wickedly funny working-over in David Ives’ Venus in Fur, a play that caused ripples and outrage during its Tony Award-winning 2011 off Broadway run starring the highly praised Nina Arianda as a volatile, struggling actress and Hugh Dancy as a playwright who has…issues.
With the provocative play having enjoyed successful runs around the world, director Roman Polanski has now turned it into a movie, a two-hander for his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Mathieu Amalric. Although both are considerably older than Arianda and Dancy and most of their stage successors, both Seigner and Amalric are spectacular and the film is a dark, perverse comic delight. Reworking the screenplay with Ives, Polanski, that master of compression and claustrophobia, keeps the action confined almost entirely to an empty Paris theater late at night. Thomas, the playwright/ director, is about to leave the theater, weary and frustrated after a day spent auditioning unsuitable actresses to play
the lead in his stage adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel Venus in Furs. Blasting into the theater during a thunderstorm, late for her reading, drenched, talking way too much and all tricked out in black leather is Vanda. At first the actress (who happens to have the same name as the heroine of Thomas’ play) comes on crude, brash, and says she hasn’t had much time to read the play, but as Thomas reluctantly begins to audition her, it turns out she knows it intimately. That’s when the deeply twisted fun begins—with the aid of whips, choke collars and S&M paraphernalia—as the two actors stage a dance of death in which the lines between the play they’re reading and the roles they’re acting out get increasingly blurry and kinky.
The finale is a corker and as darkly funny and sexual as anything Polanski has ever conjured. Even if Venus in Fur doesn’t hit the heights of the Polanski of Knife in Water or Chinatown, even if the movie isn’t anywhere near as shocking and naughty as it seems to think it is, it’s still a literate, entertaining delight.