"Venus In Fur," an adaptation from David Ives' Tony Award-winning play of the same name, is very much a dissection of its source material, Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's novella "Venus in Furs."
Playing off of the male-female dynamics of the novella, as well as utilizing a very meta-like approach by imbuing the very nature of adaptation, it's man vs. woman, "mano y mano" approach in this very playful, witty and masterfully directed satire on sexism.
Director Roman Polanski has had quite a life, with a filmography involving arguably some of the greatest movies ever made ("Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby") that spans six decades, as well as being a victim to the Holocaust, losing his wife to the Manson family murders in 1971, and being forced to flee the U.S. after being convicted in highly publicized sexual assault case.
It's easy to understand why the material seemed so appealing to him, and he brings a lot of himself to it. It may be no mistake that he cast his real-life doppelganger, Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell And The Butterfly," "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), as well as his own wife, Emmanuelle Seigner ("The Diving Bell And The Butterfly," "La Vie En Rose").
The film wastes no time setting up the mood with Alexander Desplat's subtly used score, as it opens on a dark and stormy night, with the camera slowly tracking into the theatre where we find Thomas Novacheck (Amalric), a playwright, taking charge of his own material for the first time. He's tired and frustrated after writing off a handful of actresses during a grueling day of auditions.
Entering just in time to hear Novacheck's clearly misogynistic dismissal of the actresses is Vanda Jourdain (Seigner), whose name coincidentally resembles the titular character of Novacheck's play. She's a mess, frantic and wet with smeared makeup, and she's late for her audition.
After a little push and shove on her part, Novacheck gives her a chance, despite all other indications; she's not on the list, she doesn't know the material and most of all she's just not right for the part.
But the moment Vanda reads her lines, everything changes: that absent-minded and unprepared ditz transforms into a commanding presence. She embodies the character and knows her and the play in its entirety much further than she once led to believe.
At once confusing ambivalence with ambiguity, Vanda's intentions start to become more and more ambiguous. She goes straight to the heart of the material, questioning the sexual subtext of Novacheck's play, as well as offering personal psychological insight into Novacheck's character. Who she really is, and what she really showed up for, become unclear.
The isolated setting poses no problem, with Polanski effectively moving his camera around the stage as we quite literally watch the two actors direct and dissect the action as it happens. The way we see the material unfold on stage effectively engages us deeper into the story, while Vanda simultaneously peels back the layers on Novacheck's masochistic desires.
The real spectacle here is watching these two actors go head-to-head, and while Amalric holds his own, Seigner is the real winner, effortlessly switching in and out of character. We quickly lose grasp of her real identity and the lines become blurred.
While not entirely a breakaway from its theatrical roots, "Venus In Fur" is another exquisitely crafted film from one of the all-time great directors, who may not have too many left in him.
The film is available on Xfinity Video On Demand and will be released on DVD on Oct. 13.