Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur

2014, NR, 96 min. Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 5, 2014

The play’s the thing in the erotic comedy/drama Venus in Fur, which entirely takes place during an unorthodox audition one rainy evening in a Parisian theatre where a musical version of the classic Western Stagecoach has recently closed. Frustrated by the younger “idiot” actresses who earlier read for the female lead in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalous 1870 novel of sexual domination and subjugation, a veteran playwright and novice director (Amalric) is about to head home when a bedraggled woman with wet hair and runny mascara (Seigner) announces her late arrival at the back of the theatre. At first glance, this older, slightly voluptuous, and somewhat trampy female – she’s wearing a dog collar in the spirit of the play’s S&M premise – is all wrong for the part, despite the coincidence (or not?) she’s named Vanda, similar to the stage character. This Vanda is a brash and uncultured Loire Valley girl past her prime, more dumb blonde than sophisticated lady in the eyes of a sexist whose misogyny informs his view of women. Blinded by his objectifications, however, he fails to see what you immediately see: The audition began the moment Vanda walked through the door. As a giant, phallic cactus from the closed production holds silent vigil, the two characters instantly engage in a tug-of-war for power and control, flip-flopping between the dramatic text of the written page and their dialogue in real life. Let the mindfuck begin.

Casting Seigner in the coveted role of Vanda in this adaptation of David Ives’ Tony-winning play may strike some as nepotistic (she’s married to director Polanski), but her performance stands on its own. It’s deliciously self-conscious. Like a cat playfully teasing a mouse for hours before devouring it, her Vanda clearly enjoys toying with her prey as she carries out a feminist agenda that may be personal, political, or both. In the less showy role of her clueless victim, Amalric – who’s a dead ringer for Polanski – is most convincing at his most submissive. While the extraordinarily talented Polish-born director rarely falters in translating the source’s theatrical strengths, his Venus in Fur feels oddly impersonal, lacking the trademark touch of Polanski perversity (with the exception of that erect, needled spike). The man is capable of placing his own stamp on a great piece of writing. Witness his insistence on an unhappy ending to Robert Towne’s brilliant screenplay for Chinatown. You can’t imagine it any other way.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Venus in Fur
Exhibitionism
Venus in Fur
A spirit of fun drives this Austin Playhouse comedy about power plays in the bedroom and the theatre

Robert Faires, Jan. 10, 2014

More Roman Polanski Films
Carnage
Roman Polanski directs this chamber piece about the demise of social decorum that's adapted from the play God of Carnage.

Kimberley Jones, Jan. 13, 2012

The Ghost Writer
Polanski is back in the saddle with his new political mystery thriller, which stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 26, 2010

More by Steve Davis
Breakthrough
Evangelical tract never raises a pulse

April 12, 2019

Five Feet Apart
Meet cute on the teen ICU takes a turn for the corny

March 22, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Venus in Fur, Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle