Venus in Fur
An enigmatic actress may have a hidden agenda when she auditions for a part in a misogynistic writer's play.
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★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
"you sold your soul for alliteration."
if you have to make a movie about your wife's décolletage, this is how you do it. like the deliciously cruel and kinky S&M version of CERTIFIED COPY (though of course not that film's equal), but ultimately less interested in ambiguity than in humiliating the patriarchy. by the time it's over, the agenda seems pretty fucking clear and clear-eyed. Seigner & Amalric are more than game, and Polanski's self-referential use of space is the most articulate takedown of CARNAGE you're likely to find.
★★★★ review by Dragonknight on Letterboxd
”Nothing is more sensual than pain. Nothing is more exciting than degradation.”
Twisty, dark and breathtaking, Venus in Fur is exactly what one expects to see from Roman Polanski. The eighty year old Polish director only needs two actors, a single location and an immensely mind-bending screenplay to once again uncover the dark and disturbing side of mankind’s soul and create an experience which is impossible to forget. Venus in Fur is a thematically challenging and formally exciting movie which freezes its audience for 90 minutes and in the end manages to deliver something incredibly melancholic and maddeningly puzzling.
Based on David Ives’ play of the same name Venus in Fur is a psychological thriller focusing on an unusual and complex relationship which is forming up between a mysterious actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) and a middle-aged theater writer/director (Mathieu Amalric). Although it starts like a realistic movie but as it goes ahead Polanski moves away from those initial tones and instead builds a confounding and strange atmosphere which is very hard to call realistic, soon it becomes difficult to differentiate between the reality that surrounds characters and the roles they are playing. The film portrays a process in which one character gradually gains control over the other one and then through this control manages to remove the margin between reality and imagination.
At first we are curious to know about this woman, her intention and her motives but Polanski never cares about those questions so instead of trying to make a thrilling detective story he navigates us toward a more disturbing and profound ending, as always the reckless behavior of us humans and the destructive nature of our minds is what fascinates Polanski most, here he portray a process in which a human being gives away his identity and dignity in order to satisfy his carnal desires.
The film is about a theatrical adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s famous novel Venus in Furs and what Polanski and his co-writer, David Ives do is that they run two stories parallel to each other, the story of Thomas and Vanda goes through the same milestones and developments that the characters of the 1870 novel are going through which further intensifies the whole thing and also provides a great opportunity for Polanski to explore some of his favorite themes.
But the film wouldn't have been impressive if it wasn't for its performances. Emmanuelle Seigner is amazing as the mysterious Vanda who consciously moves back and forth between being a brutal punisher and a seductive lover, Mathieu Amalric’s performance is also admirable as a man who step by step gives up his sanity and yields to the sensuality and character strength of Vanda. The film’s editing controls the rhythm perfectly and when your composer is Alexander Desplat you know that you’re going to hear some powerful melodies.
Venus in Fur is a wonderful thriller from a true master whose ability to shock the viewers is beyond compare.
★★★★ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd
A double down on the meta from the intertextual (Sacher-Masoch's novel) and the extratextual (Polanski's own life). After Carnage's uncomfortable shouting that felt mostly monotonous to me in both the way Polanski wields the camera and the lack of narrative shift (Dargis's line "George and Martha times two" has stuck with me), Polanski is gifted with a text more applicable to both his themes but really himself. He casts a Mathieu Amalric who blatantly resembles the director crica The Tenant and his own wife in the role of Master-Slave; not as a wink but as a starting point.. The opening tracking shot through the comically oppressive storm outside the CGI theater is the horizontal eye to Rosemary's God's eye dive into the apartment, while Polanski's camera subtly shifts the staging and direction by emphasizing the power of Singer's legs and breasts swallow the frame over Amalric. In the same way The Ghost Writer relied on deep focus staging and composition to create a paranoid environment, Polanski's camera movements rarely announce themselves, which is perfect for a text where Amalric doesn't realize his manipulation until its too late.
Amalric suggests over and over that his own interest in the text is completely outside his own interests, which strikes me as a specific meta-commentary on the way Polanski's films have been treated all too regularly as if it was the only interpretation to be made (how many reviews of The Ghost Writer avoided mentioning the allusions between the house and Polanki's own situation, despite the timeline not making sense). And so what are we left with them? Polanski succumbing to his own personal allusions?—his interest in younger women, or in being a perverse dude into weird shit, or simply feeling like a slave to greater forces that confirm his paranoia. Does that make Singer the public at large?—all too happy to push and pull him and by the end chain him up? The changed ending thus becomes the necessary indulgence, the nude body Amalric has desired to see all film, but only under the circumstance that it his own prison. Tragedy and triumph in one.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films (5) challenge.
Now past 80 years of age, director Roman Polanski is still looking for challenges, so he picked out this two-character drama by David Ives to adapt to the screen. Of interest, the 2010 play was based on a novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which was first made into a movie in 1967 by director Joseph Marzano. And yes, the term "masochism" derives from the novelist's name.
In interviews, Polanski has said this film is a comedy, which only shows how his sense of humor is pretty far outside the mainstream. Mathieu Amalric plays a director named Thomas Novacheck, who is bent on adapting the 1870 von Sacher-Masoch novel for the stage. He has just finished conducting 30+ auditions for an actress to fill the role of Wanda von Dunayev aka Aphrodite, who takes Severin von Kusiemski as her love slave in a contracted sado-masochistic relationship.
Polanski's real-life wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, plays Vanda Jourdain, a kind of slutty yet very intelligent actress who turns up late and convinces Thomas to let her audition for him in private. What transpires from there is a mind-twisting enactment of roles, role reversals, sexual teasing and seduction, gender bending, and audience baiting that only a director of Polanski's stature could possibly pull off.
This reminded me a bit of Polanski's "Carnage" (2011), which was also based on a play and filmed on a closed set (a simulated New York apartment) with just four actors. The good folks at Cannes nominated this film for the Palme d'Or, while France's César Awards bestowed their Best Director prize on the Polish filmmaker.
★★★★ review by Robert Beksinski on Letterboxd
Even admist polar opposite stylistics and tone, I couldn't help but to draw comparisons in the story's progressive structure that blends reality and fiction in a cinematic world to that of Kiarostami's deeply thought provoking Certified Copy. Of course Kairostami's film was not an immediate reaction to Venus in Fur but rather a slow unraveling of secret character motivations, role reversals, and power play that take a stranglehold of the viewer's attention. It's films like these that hold a certain psychological influence over the viewer, that keeps them engrossed in desire for the truth, a yearning for logic and comprehensibility that never delivers leaving the audience in a state of bewilderment and wonder. Films like these leave an impact and that is always the marking of greatness and thus Polanski has still not lost his touch after such a lengthy and illustrious career.
Speaking of Polanski, while he directs this film as an adaptation of someone else's stage play (David Ives) he inserts more of his own personality and even metaphorical biography into the film that it begins to reflect his own life more than the original material. In a meta turn (as if the film was not already "meta" enough) he brilliantly casts his wife in the role of Vanda as well as dressing Mathieu Amalric (whom is the "director" of the play within the film) to look like a young version of himself even going as far in such an uncanny resemblance as to donning the same hairstyle. This brings forth a theory of how Polanski is essentially making this film in the vein of a love letter to his wife. Let's not kid ourselves she dominates this film as well as in character dominating the Polanski look alike in Almaric. In essence it is as though Polanski is telling the audience metaphorically of how he is still slave after all of these years to his own goddess of dominatrix in Emmanuelle Seigner. She still possesses his being and he wants to capture that feeling of succumbing mind, body, and soul to another person on his film. This made Venus in Fur feel even more of a personal portrait, an intimate tragic comedy into the marriage between Emmanuelle Seigner and Roman Polanski.
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