Roman Polanski / France / 2013 / 96 mins
Following up his 2011 theatre adaptation, Carnage, Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur sees the director once again draw inspiration from the stage – this time in more ways than one. Sticking close to the chamber piece approach of its predecessor, the film is set almost entirely within one room; yet whilst the Brooklyn apartment of Carnage sees its middle-class protagonists struggling to keep up a covert act of civility, Venus in Fur unfolds inside a theatre, where its lead character tries desperately to separate himself from a role he is playing openly.
Set on a stormy night in Paris, the film opens with playwright Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Amalric) loudly venting his frustrations about the string of useless actresses who have just auditioned for his new play: an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s erotic novella, Venus in Furs. Suddenly, as if on cue, in comes Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski’s wife). Attractive yet brash, late but insistent, she is the very encapsulation of Thomas’s complaints and yet, when she begins to perform opposite him, he finds himself captivated. Providing her own costumes and possessing a strangely authoritative knowledge of the text, it’s as if she was born to play the dominatrix of Thomas’s script – indeed, she even has the character’s name. But as the audition goes on, and the lines between role-play and reality continue to blur, a question begins to emerge: just who is auditioning who?
Brilliantly co-written by Polanski and the play’s author, David Ives, the film revels in its metafictional nature (“She had all this planned. She set it up before she came in”, Vanda suggests, supposedly offering insight on her ‘role’), creating a battle of the sexes that is part commentary and part fantasy. Rounded off with phallic symbolism and Alexandre Desplat’s playful score, the result may prove a little too theatrical for some, but when the players deliver it with such mischievous conviction, it’s difficult not to have fun. Seigner in particular relishes her character’s use of the bait-and-switch, slipping perfectly between the two Vandas whenever matters threaten to climax too soon.