REVIEW: Venus in Fur

20 06 2014

Venus in FurCannes Film Festival – Official Competition, 2013

We’re now witnessing the late films of Roman Polanski, whether we like it or not.  The director gave us one of the all-time great horror films (“Rosemary’s Baby“), neo-noirs (“Chinatown”), and Holocaust films (“The Pianist”).  Yet now, he seems content to draw his legacy to a close with a sort of artistic retreat into filmed theater.

His latest film, “Venus in Fur,” has more than a few similarities with Polanski’s previous directorial effort, 2011’s meekly received “Carnage.”  They are both adaptations of a stage play with a small set of characters locked in a continuous scene restricted to a single space.  And Polanski, who proved to be quite the consummate visual filmmaker in decades past, seems content to just yell “action!” and have the actors do their work.

He controls the chaos a lot better in “Venus in Fur,” although that could be due in part to the cast of only two – one of which is his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, who he’s presumably on the same wavelength with to begin.  She plays Vanda, an aging actress who invites herself to audition for the director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric).  He’s adapting the novel “Venus in Furs,” which is notable for introducing the phrase sadomasochism into the world brain.

Over the course of an hour and a half, Vanda and Thomas play a game of verbal chess over sexual politics and gender identity.  They arrive at more than a few interesting conclusions as their power dynamics and roles begin to shift.  Seigner and Amalric’s acting keeps “Venus in Fur” interesting whenever the location starts to feel boring or the whole enterprise just feels a little bit stalled.

“Venus in Fur” feels like many things, none of which is a Polanski film.  Although I have to give credit to a director who, at 80, is making us reconsider what exactly his movies are.  B-2stars

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