reviewed by Audy Elliott
“I’ve been your slave since you entered the room”
- Thomas to Vanda 
As soon as this movie started it compelled me like I was in on a dirty little secret and no one else knew except me, the director and actors. It flirted with my mind with its subtextual dialog and effortless chemistry while shifting between the verbal realities and unspoken nuances with its witty dialog. Polanski, who I have always respected and admired as a filmmaker (As a person um.. meh), picks up where he left off from 2010’s Carnage. Again Polanski looks towards the stage medium to find inspiration. Just like the two leads who flirt with one another through wordplay, Polanski is flirting with my film intellect daring me to stop watching, knowing that once he has you, you will not want to be let go.

Sexually abstract, naturalistic, sub textual, arousing, mysterious, substantial 

Filmed with a seductive ease
Kooky French humor
Superb writing and screenplay adaptation
Ambiguity nature of the film
Expression of the subconscious in the acting
Resplendent direction

Vanda is miscast
Unconvincing denouement
Tangential dialog at certain times 

Official selection in this year’s Cannes Film Festival – Starring Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace) as Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner (Le Vie en Rose, Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as Vanda in this film based on the Tony Award winning play by David Ives. This is the latest film by controversial, but brilliant filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist). Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of unsuccessfully auditioning actresses for his new play, writer-director Thomas complains that no actress he’s seen has what it takes to play the lead role – a woman who enters into an agreement with her male counterpart to dominate him as her sex slave (meta alert). As Thomas is about to leave the theater for the night an actress bursts in the last minute exuding an erotic determination to change his mind and land the role.

As previously mentioned, this movie is a film adaptation of David Ive’s Broadway play, which he in turn, borrowed from the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella ‘Venus in Furs’. The novel, like the film and play, focuses on themes of natural female dominance and sadomasochism borrowed from Sacher-Masoch’s own life. Ive’s play focuses on the metaphysical aspect of the book, where Thomas is “auditioning” Vanda for the role, but is substituting his own psychological motifs to mask his true suppressive sexual inhibitions. As with the play, Polanski explores and showcases each character naturally. Both Thomas and Vanda start off the play as literary, archetypical paradoxes – He being the director representing power and need; she being the actress representing submissiveness and want. However, as the story progresses so do our happy little French characters as they exhibit each a “Je ne sais quoi-ness” intangibility that permeates in the smoke filled air of every scene.

Polanski subtlety chose to present this movie in a fantasy/supernatural vantage point when representing Vanda and how she came crashing in Thomas’ audition and subsequently his psyche. Vanda is played by Polanski’s real life wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Seigner, was a fine choice, but there was a screaming hint of nepotism like Tim Burton’s collaborations with Helena Bonham Carter. Seigner’s portrayal is an older, milfy looking French woman that could be confused as a stand in to Sex in the City’s Samantha without the unabashed sexual auto pilot caricature deliriums. Polanski sets up the characterization, when Thomas, briefly on the phone to a colleague says, that he is “tired of all the young girls that are auditioning.” Like BOOM from dynamite enters Vanda. Seigner displays an imposing character, with a strong square jaw and round hard defined cheekbones; she possesses a vulnerable, kooky Amazonian quality to the character that marries well with the S&M subtext. She is a towering drink of water that cannot be quenched with one gulp. On the other hand her acting did not match what I felt Vanda’s character required to make Thomas completely and madly cater to her every whim unchallenged.  Amalric is believable as a man possessed and ready to be dominated with a ribbon and bow wrapped around his body. No matter how convincing Polanski and Amalric reacted towards Seigner, there is a broaden masculinity that overmatches her casual European sexuality that I found hard to believe. Even with the tone of the movie being in lust and compelled by her, I felt a slight tolerance towards her. I found her very fascinating however, in trying to determine exactly who the character really was or represented. Was she the goddess Venus, sent down to give poor ol’ Thomas a good ass kicking about sexism and pathological transsexual shame? Was Vanda just a figment of Thomas’ imagination? Was Vanda a persona of Thomas’ dark, twisted, voluptuous ego? Polanski thrived in hiding the nature and feeling of this movie in the gray areas with the thematic content of Venus in Fur. Regardless, Seigner was unconvincing, and her handling of her character’s metamorphosis towards the end felt a little unreliable. On the other hand, Amalric was more at ease and believable. Because of the strength of the script and screenplay, this movie never felt like it was in a theater or an actual stage thereby allowing Amalric to do as he pleases towards Vanda without any physical and emotional constraints. Vanda in turn reacts with a temporal, controlled, amusement handling Thomas masterfully as if she is in on some secret the rest of us do not yet know.

In this scene, the movie is finally standing on its head, as Thomas is now allowing to give himself completely to Vanda. Key acting, physical details of the role reversal of power is now full on display. Notice how Vanda (now in charge) is in the background facing us with her chin held up high and eyes peering down at Thomas giving the impression that she is on a higher more dominant plain than Thomas, who is now recessive with his back towards us lowered in the foreground. Also you will see Amalric start to drown in passion that he will be dominated and tortured, unbeknownst to us at the beginning of the movie, as he has always wanted.

This movie is a great way for one to introduce his or herself to Polanski’s work. Even though this is not his strongest movie ever (that esteem claim is for the impeccable Chinatown), it marks that Polanski hasn’t lost a directorial step. For the second movie in a row, he has decided to make a quality low budget, well crafted foreign film that are based off of stage plays, showcasing a theatrical intense treatment of an isolated study human nature i.e.: Carnage with all 4 actors in single shot apartment, and now Venus in Fur in a single shot setting of a two people in a theater. Regardless of the ambiguity, the obscurity works for this movie to where the open ended-ness was successful and thought provoking. You may walk out of the movie with more questions than answers, but Polanski as we have seen in the past can adapt and make one damn good movie after another therefore continuing to cement his legacy as a wonderful filmmaker albeit a misunderstood one. 

3 out of 4



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