Getting into character
Roman Polanski is a wanted man, has been since 1977. Yet he continues to make movies, especially ones that echo his clandestine existence. A fascinating adaptation of a Tony-winning play, Venus In Fur features just two cast members and one location, a perfect setup for the filmmaker’s brand of intimate malevolence. In an antiquated theater in Paris, a director (Mathieu Amalric) has about quit auditioning actresses for his latest production, when in enters one final candidate (Emmanuelle Seigner), an overeager, mysterious blonde whose name coincidentally is the same as the character’s. She reads with him substituting as her scene partner. Soon the text’s sadomasochistic chamber drama manifests itself anew as line-readings blur and overlap with directorial notes and creative interjections. Polanski always enjoyed setting his scenarios in claustrophobic places, and Venus In Fur is confined not merely to the playhouse but almost entirely to its stage, where the filmmaker can posit his philosophy that nothing—not even art—can protect people from themselves. Essentially a play-within-a-play-within-a-film (not to mention the original literary source and the props left onstage from an ill-advised iteration of Stagecoach), the film’s layers of artifice seep insidiously every which way. Lacing Polanski’s customary apprehension with doses of sexuality and wry humor, Venus In Fur is simultaneously good theater and intoxicating cinema.
Music by Alexandre Desplat. Screenplay by David Ives and Roman Polanski.