Venus in Fur (Sundance Selects/IFC)
Not rated (Probably R for language, sexuality and brief nudity)
Starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.
Written by Roman Polanski, based on the play by David Ives and book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
Directed by Roman Polanski.
The battle of the sexes (if you can call it that) is often reduced to the idea of domination. For some, it’s a zero-sum paradigm, while others find such ideas tawdry. Domination is the central point of Venus in Fur, Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of a play which was based on a really old book written by a guy whose name inspired the term “masochism.”
Mathieu Amalric plays a frustrated theater director and playwright named Thomas who is on the verge of leaving for home after an unfruitful day of auditions. At that very moment, an enigmatic woman enters the theater, begging to audition of the part of Wanda (a dominating figure from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s book Venus in Furs, upon which Thomas’ play is based). In what seems like a far-reaching coincidence, her name happens to be Wanda, too. Wanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) is so convincing that Thomas begins to have an interest in her.
Wanda also happens to know every line from the play, claiming she got a script from her agent.
As the audition progresses, Thomas realizes that Wanda may be more than just an actress, and that his interpretation of the controversial book might be more real than he thought.
Venus in Fur is not as controversial or perverted as the title might suggest, but it does explore particular aspects behind the psychology of domination. The movie’s conclusion may not be absolutely clear, but it does expose the dichotomy of men who seek to dominate relationships by allowing themselves to be dominated. There’s also a lot of feminist hype thrown in there, and a fair amount of shaming men for their sexist perversions.
Emmanuelle Seigner’s performance is often witty and mesmerizing, if not a little frustrating. Polanski (a controversial figure himself) takes a minimalist approach to the film, allowing the only two characters to develop and engage in a battle that is representative of the enmity between genders.
Venus in Fur is presented in French with English subtitles. It’s one of those “dialogue-heavy” movies, and is not for everyone, especially if you squirm at the idea of exploring the roots masochism – and prefer movies with more explosions and sight gags.