One of the best films to be released in American theaters last year was also one that never really got as much recognition as it deserved.
Roman Polanski’s Venus In Fur (which, itself, is based on a play by David Ives that was loosely adapted from a novel written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name and book would inspire the term masochism) features only two characters. Thomas (Mathieu Almaric) is a neurotic playwright and director whose latest production is based on Sacher-Masoch’s book, Venus in Furs. Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) is an actress who shows up late to audition for a lead role.
At first, Thomas is annoyed with and condescending towards the actress. After all, she shows up late for the audition and gives a rather long and convoluted explanation as to why. (It involves a dog wanting to fuck her.) Despite the fact that she’s auditioning for a play set in the 19th century and featuring repressed members of the upper class, she shows up for the audition wearing leather and a dog collar. (“I’m usually really demure and shit…” she assures him.) At first, Thomas refuses to allow her to audition and says that there’s nobody in the theater for her to read with. Vanda suggests that he read with her. Reluctantly, Thomas agrees…
And suddenly, Vanda goes from begging for his permission to taking control of the situation. It turns out that she’s brought a period costume with her. Before going up to the stage, she skillfully sets the stage lights to create the perfect effect. (A stunned Thomas admits that he’s not even sure how the lighting board works.) And when they’re on stage together, Vanda stuns Thomas by suddenly transforming herself into the character that he wrote.
The audition itself quickly becomes a not-quite friendly game between the two. (This is a film that anyone — even little community theater actresses like me — who has ever auditioned for a role should be able to relate to.) Vanda frequently interrupts the audition to question what Thomas has written and Thomas finds himself growing more and more disoriented as he’s frequently pulled out of the world he created and into reality.
Whenever challenged by Vanda, Thomas argues that the play has no deeper meaning. It’s simply an adaptation of a work of literature. However, as the audition continues, it becomes apparent that there’s more to the play and to the two people on stage than was originally apparent…
Venus in Fur is a fascinating film. In its way, it’s also a playful one. (You have to love the scene where a lingerie-clad Vanda suddenly takes on the role of therapist and perfectly psychoanalyzes Thomas’s fiancee. Never has the invoking the name of Jacques Derrida led to so much laughter.) Intelligently filmed by Polanski and wonderfully acted by both Amalric and Seigner, the power struggle between Thomas and Vanda makes for compelling viewing.
And hey, it’s currently on Netflix so you can watch it anytime you want. Of course, it is subtitled but so what? If you don’t know how to read, how did you make it through this review?
Seriously, find 93 minutes to spare and watch Venus In Fur.