|Image courtesy of Sundance Selects.|
This is Polanski's second stage-to-screen adaptation in a row following "Carnage," which was often funny but also a little slight for the director, whose impressive body of works includes "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Pianist," "Repulsion" and the underrated "The Ghost Writer."
Ives's play is based upon the controversial 1870 novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch that gave rise to the term "masochism." In the play and Polanski's movie, a neurotic playwright named Thomas (Mathieu Amalric, perfectly cast) is holding casting sessions for his own play based on that novel.
The underlying theme of Thomas's inherently sexist play is that women only trump men in their capability to transfix and cause anguish. As he is packing up for an evening, a seemingly ditzy and provocatively clad woman named Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski's wife), who shares the name of the play's lead character, comes in out of the rain and begs for a tryout.
Without actually rolling his eyes, it is clear that Thomas finds Vanda to be vulgar, due to her believing the play is merely an S&M role play and what he perceives to be an apparent lack of intellect. But eventually he is convinced and as the two begin to rehearse the play, he is shocked to find that she is perfect for the role and appears to understand the character better than he could have ever imagined.
As the rehearsal continues, the lines begin to blur between who the characters really are and whom they are portraying in the play. And a power struggle begins as Vanda begins calling Thomas out on his views on women and punishing him for it.
It's when these lines begin to blur that "Venus in Fur" starts to lose its way. What begins as a compelling two-person story in a minimalist setting eventually gives way to hysterics and slightly over-the-top symbolic gestures. The result is a stagey vibe too often present in movies that attempt to recreate the feeling of watching a filmed play.
Polanski is a great filmmaker, but while "Venus" is not a bad film, it's certainly a minor entry in his oeuvre. The director has perfectly captured the claustrophobia of confined spaces before - "Rosemary's Baby," "Repulsion" and "The Tenant" were all primarily set in apartments - but I'm hoping that Polanski's next movie is not based on a play, especially one so confined to a single setting as "Carnage" and "Venus in Fur" are. His is an imagination that needs a little room to breathe.