Roman Polanski’s new film, Venus in Fur, with the director beautiful wife’s Emmanuelle Seigner in female leading role, is adapted from the stage-play by David Ives.
The movie is set continuously in one location: a theatre auditorium in Paris, where a harassed director has just spent a long and disagreeable afternoon auditioning actresses for a new version of Venus In Furs, the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel about s***al submission.
The last film screened in competition at Cannes 2013 is a slight, spry comedy of s** and power; a doodle in the festival’s margins, perhaps, but it has certainly been sketched with a flourish.
Roman Polanski has adapted the David Ives play Venus in Fur, which is itself based on a novella by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
The playwright, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), has decided to direct his own script, and as the film begins, he is lamenting the lack of suitable actresses for the Vanda role.
“I need a s**y young woman with classical training and a scrap of brain in her skull,” he fumes.
At that moment, an actress blows in through the door, although she is not the erudite gamine of Thomas’s casting-call fantasies. She is in her mid-40s; a blur of blonde hair and blue eyeshadow; and she seems to have only the vaguest idea as to what the text is about. Her name, oddly enough, is Vanda, and she is played by Emmanuelle Seigner.
The shrugging, gum-chewing Vanda seems to be even worse than the others, but after she begs, Thomas is finally persuaded to give her a try – and of course he is astonished by what Vanda comes up with. Soon their relationship begins to change and Roman Polanski shows how Thomas experiences precisely that forbidden frisson celebrated in the novel.
It is a Pygmalion story, in its way, a story of transformation. The director might consider it his prerogative to shape and develop his leading lady in rehearsal. But that is not how Vanda sees it. For all its avowed danger and transgression there is something a little bit dated and even genteel in this theatregoers’ adventure in s**.