DVD Review: Venus in Fur

STUDIO: MPI | DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski | CAST: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
DVD RELEASE DATE: 10/14/2014 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
BONUSES: interviews with Polanski, Seigner and Amalric
SPECS: NR | 96 min. | Comedy drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes):
Movie  | Audio  | Video | Overall

Sometimes a project seems tailor-made for a certain filmmaker. Such is the case with the film adaptation of David Ives’ Tony-winning play Venus in Fur, which found its ideal adaptor in Roman Polanski.

The play is one that could’ve hardly stood being “opened up” for the screen, as it is set on one evening in a theater that is entirely empty, except for a pretentious playwright-director and a rambunctious actress who shows up late for an audition. Given that Polanski made a trio of classic “apartment horror” films (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant) and another, fact-based feature in which the protagonist has to hide inside an apartment (The Pianist), there is no individual better suited to adapt a work that could have proven claustrophobic and tedious in the hands of another filmmaker.

Venus in Fur movie scene

Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner in Venus in Fur

Polanski has also exhibited a penchant for infusing kinky sexuality into his films, most prominently in his broad comedies and the very underrated Bitter Moon. Venus wallows in fetishism while also analyzing and critiquing the Sacher-Masoch novel that the playwright has chosen to adapt for the stage.

The film begins with Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, Change of Plans ) arriving late to audition for the lead role in Venus in Fur, about a woman — also named Vanda — who dominates her lover. Playwright Thomas (Mathieu Amalric, Wild Grass) is at first completely annoyed by Vanda’s confrontational behavior, but he falls under her spell as she begins to perform his play. As he realizes she is perfect for the role, she continues to frustrate him by stepping out of her character and criticizing his, and Sacher-Masoch’s, writing.

The situation is thus an extended act of seduction and domination by Vanda, who persuades Thomas to act out the entire play with her, for reasons that remain unknown until the very end of the film.

Polanski notes in an interview included here that he considers the film a comedy. The question of “control” is the theme of the piece, with Vanda protesting Thomas’s belief that Sacher-Masoch’s novel is a timeless love story. She notes that, even though the female character is in ascendance, the scenario is still very much a male fantasy.

Venus in Fur movie scene

Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner in Venus in Fur

Amalric is excellent as Thomas, who quickly allows real-life “goddess” Vanda to direct (and rewrite) his play for him. Of some significance is the fact that Amalric resembles the younger Polanski and was thus surely Roman’s first choice to play “his” artist surrogate.

Seigner, Polanski’s wife, perfectly incarnates Vanda, who transforms throughout the film, from a gum-chewing bimbo to an elegant, late 19th-century lady, to a dominatrix and a feminist critic, all the while skirting the issue of how she has obtained and memorized a play that has never been produced. Following on the heels (or is that thigh-high boots?) of her terrific turn as a more demure object of desire in Francois Ozon’s In the House, Venus proves once more that Seigner excels in densely-layered roles.

What is most impressive about the film is Polanski’s decision to craft a small-in-scope character study that intelligently tackles some very big issues. At 81, one can’t be sure how many more films he will make, but Venus and his last film, the equally “small” Carnage demonstrate that he is still one of the most vital and entertaining filmmakers on the international scene.

There is only one supplement in this package, a collection of interview-shards from Polanski, Seigner and Amalric (all speaking in English). The fragments are edited like clips on an electronic-press kit, with the questions appearing as intertitles.

We learn that Polanski declares the Ives play to be “my cup of tea.” Seigner strengthens this notion by revealing that Polanski was very enamored of the film once he finished it. Says she (who incidentally is dressed in alluring fetish-fashion in the latter portion of the picture), “I’m really happy because he loves the film, and he’s actually watching it tonight for like the tenth time!”


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”