Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure)
VENUS IN FUR (Roman Polanski, 2013)
It is a dark and stormy night in VENUS IN FUR when Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives at the theater to audition for Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). After a long day of seeing actresses, none of whom have the maturity he thinks the role demands, Thomas is not inclined to let a latecomer who’s not even on the call list take up his time. Nevertheless Vanda insists until he finally agrees to allow her to read for the part. Although he intends to stop her audition after three pages, she demonstrates a grasp of the character that tantalizes him to keep the tryout going.
Like the David Ives play on which the film is based, Thomas has adapted Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s VENUS IN FURS for his production. The term masochism is derived from the Austrian writer and his novel about finding pleasure through degradation. While a clear demarcation exists when Vanda and Thomas are playing the characters and speaking about themselves, the dynamic between them takes on the qualities of the material they’re acting. As the writer and director Thomas is seemingly in charge but finds himself agreeing to being dominated by the unpredictable actress.
The play within the film toys with the questions of if a work reflects an artist’s desires, particularly those that are sublimated, or if everything can simply be ascribed to creative license. Thomas defends dubious ideas and representations in his writing as faithfulness to the source material, but are those qualities what attracted him to it in the first place? Director Roman Polanski, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ives, complicates matters further by casting and costuming Thomas with a striking resemblance to himself and having his wife play Vanda. In addition the debate about power dynamics between men and women and the strong and the submissive extends through Polanski’s body of work and colors perceptions of his past legal problems. Thus VENUS IN FUR transforms from a theoretical argument about how much of an artist is in his art to an intimate and self-critical examination. Thomas strives to make the text ambiguous, but in the end veiling his fantasies and frustrations through fiction serves as an acceptable way of hiding them in broad daylight. Interpretation is left to the individual.
VENUS IN FUR opens with a Steadicam shot entering the theater as though Vanda is a succubus barging into Thomas’s snug retreat to torment and delight him. There’s nothing supernatural in how she controls the mood and the lighting, yet her domination of the scenario is handled as though she possesses such abilities to affect mental and physical states according to her will. The film perches on the knife’s edge separating foreboding and the erotic through verbal intercourse. Vanda and Thomas do not touch often, yet it’s unnecessary as VENUS IN FUR conveys a tactile and fetishistic relationship with words and objects.
Seigner has great fun in her versatile performance, appearing first as a brash, gum-smacking dimwit who morphs into a perceptive interpreter capable of being a compliant underling and terrifying challenger. Vanda tells Thomas that as the director it’s his job to torture actors, yet the creative combustion comes as their relationship becomes one rooted in mutable and mutual rule. Either’s submission means nothing without consent.