Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) was a case of either love or hate. Critically acclaimed, it transforms an argument between four people inside one room into a satire about human relationships. With Venus in Fur Polanski goes further and decides not only to dwell into the delicate matter of gender politics, but also reduce it to a sparse bone structure of two actors and a stage.
Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigneur) is an actress who is late to an audition with theatre director Thomas (Mattieu Amalric), who is trying to cast “Vanda” for his upcoming production of Venus in Fur. After convincing him to let her read the part – after all, she did spend 30 euros on her dress – Vanda starts manipulating Thomas into the same spiral of obsession and confusion his own protagonist lives throughout the play. In the end, power swaps places and Thomas lets himself suffer at the hands of a woman.
In a film with just two characters, it comes as no surprise that its strength rests in the amazing performance of Seigneur (also known for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Amalric, who works as Polanski’s alter ego. Seigneur, particularly, succeeds in alternating between the vulnerable actress with a poison tongue and feminist views, and the all alluring, sexual and manipulative Vanda from the play. Her alternation between the two – and our sudden realization that, after all, she’s acting “acting” – makes her the main point of attention during the film. Like Thomas, we just can’t stop looking and wondering what’s coming next from such a strange, magnetic woman.
What the art department and cinematography were able to make from such humble means is also extraordinary. Of course, the fact that the action happens in a stage allows for a more stylised, striking visual aesthetics regarding light and set, but not for a moment, for some reason, we think we’re watching a staged play instead of a film. This ain’t filmed theatre – this is another deep exploration of the human psyche by the man that gave us Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, full of excellent dialogue and quotable lines but avoiding being verbose, and whose humor even dares to joke about certain real life judicial accusations.
This is also no porno – it is, instead, a curious reflection about the eternal war of the sexes, and a study on how love is all about power and submission. It is simply 96 minutes of a play rehearsal, and shows what great directors are made of. No need for big toys, or even fancy props. A great story, two great actors, one space. It could go so wrong, but it feels so right. Let yourselves be tied in when you get a chance.
Venus in Furs will be available on DVD from July 28.