Saturday, November 1, 2014

Streaming tip: Roman Polanski's film of David Ives' (via Sacher-Masoch) play VENUS IN FUR


Overlays aplenty figure in the filmed version of VENUS IN FUR, from the theatrical play by David Ives (itself based on the work of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, though I'm not certain Leopold ever wrote anything quite this disarmingly funny). First, the film has been adapted, with the help of Mr. Ives, by that notorious director, lecher, ever-present prison-dodger, and quite a talent, Roman Polanski (shown below). Second, it stars his wife of long-standing, Emmanuelle Seigner opposite the French actor, Mathieu Amalric, who looks awfully like Polanski did in his earlier years. So on one level, watching this movie is like watching a director put his wife through some sexual paces with a man who clearly resembles his younger self. Wow. Or maybe ouch.

Not having seen the legitimate theater version (though literally everyone I know who saw either the Broadway or original off-Broadway mounting loved it), I can only say that seeing this relatively short, 95-minute movie was a lot of fun -- as much for those overlays mentioned above, as for the witty, game-playing script that Ives has delivered and the terrific performances from Seigner (below) and Amalric (further below). This is Polanski's second attempt in two years to bring to the screen a popular theater piece, and it is a pleasure to report that he succeeds here every bit as completely as he failed with his earlier transfer, Carnage (based on Yazmina Reza's play, The God of Carnage).

I also must take back my earlier comment that the director should be let nowhere near comedy, as Polanski proves himself quite adept at the light touch required to bring Ives work's to the right life. Venus in Fur is nothing if not a lot of fun.

Whoever was in charge of set and location has come up with a simply ravishing little dilapidated theatre in which to film (below). Every nook and cranny seem to be filled with history, lechery, fun and frolic -- not to mention probably every great classic ever staged. You can practically smell the dank but pleasurable aroma of the place as you watch.

The story is that of what looks like a slightly over-the-hill and down-on-her-luck actress (Seigner), arriving terribly late for an audition with the play's writer and maybe director (Amalric). The latter doesn't want to even give the former a chance, and so she begs, lies, and cajoles him into at least a few moment of stage time.

Initially Vanda (the actress appears to have the same name as the character for which she is auditioning) seems a not-too-smart cookie with a lot of sex appeal. Soon, however, we're sure that she's the smartest person in the room, if not in the whole of Paris.

Watching Seigner and Amalric parry and feint, gain and then lose the upper hand is wonderful fun. The two play together like the by-now old pros that they are: French acting royalty of a newer sort than, say, Michèle Morgan and Jean Gabin.

If things begin to run down just a tad in the film's final half hour, I don't think you'll grouse much. Performances, direction and writing are of such a high order and so perfectly conjoined that this is one of those rare movies in which you suspect that the actors and crew had as much fun as will the audience who's about to watch.

Venus in Fur -- released here in the USA via Sundance Selects and running 95 minutes -- can be seen now via Netflix streaming and elsewhere digitally. It's also available on DVD.

2 comments:

Arion said...

This one sure looks interesting. I'll try to see it.

By the way, I read your post about Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You. I recently saw the film and I loved it.

Before signing off, I wanted to say I really like your blog.

Keep up the good work!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for your comments, Arion. BTW, I read your profile. Very interesting. (What a divergent list of movies you love!) And I hope someday soon you'll start to earn some money via your comic book writing. And so glad you enjoyed SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU. That film ought to have been more widely seen and appreciated!