Venus in Fur (2013)

A mundane affair with two actors, or a strong exercise in building sexual tension?  Maybe both.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Roman Polanski
2013 | France | Drama | 96 mins | 2.35:1 | French & German
M18 (passed clean) for mature content and some nudity

Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Plot: An actress attempts to convince a director how she’s perfect for a role in his upcoming production.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Lionsgate

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 28 Dec 2013
Spoilers: No

Roman Polanski’s latest Venus in Fur stars Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric as the film’s only two leads in this artsy adaptation of David Ives’ play of the same name. 

The picture is as much a meta-filmic (perhaps even a meta-playic) look at the mechanisms of acting as it is a loose experimental investigation into the psyche of the film’s subject. 

The subject in this case is Amalric’s character, a director who has been fed up all day with poor auditioning performances by wannabe actresses, only to fall under the spell of a sexy woman who convinces him that she is worthy of the role. 

Perhaps too worthy indeed, as Polanski’s film straddles between the realms of acting and otherwise, opening up a grey center where desires of the repressed sort run wild.

Venus in Fur relies heavily on the performances of Seigner and Amalric, who are in their element here.  These actors play ‘actors’ who read lines off each other.  It becomes more than just an audition; it becomes a mysterious reality that turns surrealistic in the climax with striking cinematography.

“She taught me the most valuable thing in the world… That nothing is more sensual than pain. That nothing is more exciting than degradation.” 

For most parts the film is quite effective as a naturalistic exercise in building sexual tension between ‘actors’, if not for the pursuit of art, then for the realization of taboo desires. Venus in Fur can be a mundane affair, devoid of style and structure. 

The dialogue repeats frequently as both actors play and replay their roles, sometimes even switching roles midway.  Where is the director in all of this?  And this is a crucial question because the absence of direction suggests the presence of a floating illusion.

Retrospectively, this is foreshadowed in the opening scene – a long take that sees a weightless camera moving along a path with trees lined up on each side before entering a building.  There is lighting and thunder, creating an ominous mood despite a seemingly accompanying playful melody by Alexandre Desplat. 

Polanski imbues Ives’ New York stage hit with a chamber-like Parisian touch.  As a result, one might find Venus in Fur evoking a feeling of classicism. 

Still, some might view Polanski’s latest effort akin to a snoozefest of intimate proportions, but its perverse subject matter remains continually involving in a mild way.  In my opinion, this is not a strong effort by Polanski, but it is not a bad effort in what it has set out to do.

Grade: B-



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