Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(French with English subtitles)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: David Ives & Roman Polanski
(based on the play VENUS IN FUR by David Ives)
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner & Mathieu Amalric
First things first, I’m an English-Education major who has taken too many courses in literary and critical theory. I don’t want to sound like a pompous snob in this review, but the content of this film might not leave me with much of a choice. As seedy his personal life may be, Roman Polanski still has the talent to pump out good films. After a well-received thriller (THE GHOST WRITER), Polanski seems to have moved on to adapting plays for the cinematic world. 2011’s CARNAGE was a hilarious single-location story driven purely by a long verbal attack between four characters. VENUS IN FUR cuts that number of characters in half and moves its tale into a far more dingy location. While there are obvious pieces of dark humor, there’s an unnerving suspense to VENUS. It’s like the Tony-winning version of something along the lines of HARD CANDY. There’s plenty of dialogue emphasizing different philosophies (Feminism, Sociology, Derrida, etc.) and two actors battling each other in a wicked war of words. By now, you already should have a good idea if this film is up your alley or not.
At a rundown theater located in the middle of a grim city square, Thomas is exhausted with the latest group of auditions for his penned play. He can’t seem to find the right actress for the lead part of his two-person script. As he’s packing up his supplies and getting ready to leave for the night, the sexy Vanda enters the theater asking about the audition. After a bit of persuasion and two frustrating phone calls, Thomas agrees to read alongside Vanda for her audition. His play titled “VENUS IN FUR” is about a man who becomes obsessed with a lover and bends to every whim in a sadomasochistic fashion. In a true twist of irony, Thomas begins feeling the same way for Vanda as she reads aloud with him as the character in his play.
Like CARNAGE, the characters of Thomas and Vanda are able to leave the confines of the playhouse at many points throughout the story. These opportunities are almost taken advantage of many times, but the characters are realistically drawn back to reading with each other on the stage. VENUS IN FUR is basically a 90-minute conversation between two people who invoke the paranoia of Polanski’s creepy earlier efforts (REPULSION or THE TENANT). Besides Polanski heightening the artistic direction of the film, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner play off each other perfectly. The use of the same tune repeated to different volumes and speeds makes for a cool piece of music that heightens the tension as the story progresses.
As great as it is, VENUS IN FUR is not without a couple of problems. The ending left me wanting more. I could easily see this conclusion working well on stage. In the film format, it feels like there should be more of an “ump” in the closing note. It seemed like the final scenes were building towards something huge and then Polanski panned out to credits. I was left thinking “That’s it?” It’s not as if the conclusion derails the film. Not at all, because it’s a logical direction for the story to move in. I’m sure that there will be crowds analyzing it to no end (especially seeing all the philosophy on display and nods to intellectuals). I just wanted a more satisfying closing shot. Kind of like the ending, other moments also seem like they might have played better on a stage than the way Polanski brought them out. These are limited to a couple of scenes.
VENUS IN FUR is highly entertaining, intriguing, and completely dialogue driven. It’s adaptation of a play that very much feels like a play brought to cinematic life. I was never bored while watching this film and nothing struck me as outright bad or mediocre. Four people with passion are the reason VENUS IN FUR works as well as it does. Polanski is adding an atmosphere of near-suffocating suspense. David Ives adapts his own work into a relatively solid screenplay. Finally, the two performers bringing everything they have to the screen. The ending and a couple of scenes probably worked better on stage than they do in the film format. However, VENUS IN FUR is a great time for someone who’s into this kind of thing. You know who you are.