Roman Polanski tries his hand at another stage play in Venus in Fur, a mini-movie that represents a definite improvement over 2011’s Carnage, a movie also based on a play.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
This time, Polanski translates David Ives’s Broadway production into French, turning it into a claustrophobic power struggle between a playwright/director (Mathieu Amalric) and a mysterious actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) who’s trying out for a part in the director’s adaptation of a novel by real-life 19th-century author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
Polanski’s remarkably fluid opening and closing shots are enough to justify the price of admission. Better yet, the performances are intriguing, perhaps because they totally embody the movie’s deeper meanings. Seigner’s character wheedles her way into an audition. Amazingly, she already knows her lines, and she’s quite good. Amalric’s character reads with her, playing the part of an aristocrat.
As the story unfolds, director and actress begin jockeying for position. Seigner’s character becomes increasingly bold, often taking aim at the director’s judgment. In Seigner’s capable hands, the play becomes a sharply observed study of acting, pretense and sudden shifts in direction.
Polanski’s two-character drama is limited only by the material itself: It can seem more tricky than profound, but Polanski knows how to stage a battle between the sexes with the advantage, in this case, tipping toward Seigner’s wily, alluring and seldom predictable character.