Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Mar 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Power Exchange

film venus‘Venus In Fur’ is a witty duet on love, seduction and obsession directed by Roman Polanski

In The Ninth Gate, Roman Polanski’s overwrought adaptation of Arturo Perez-Riverte’s elegantly demonic novel The Club Dumas, the operative theme was that each of us gets the Devil we deserve. In Polanski’s latest, the intriguing two-character sparring match Venus In Fur, the underlying theme might be: each of us gets the God (or Goddess) we deserve. And, because we’re in the Polanski universe, the director’s wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, co-star in both films, plays both Devil and Goddess.

Venus In Fur is adapted from the stage play by co-scenarist David Ives, which was inspired by the works of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the Austrian writer who put the “M” in S&M). It’s a meditation on pleasure and pain, sex and sexism, and the corruption of the notion of love by less wholesome desires. Essentially a dialogue between an actress arriving late for an audition and a touchy director in an empty Paris theater after hours, it’s an often comic and sprightly, occasionally poignant duet in which the harmonies constantly shift and tilt to keep the audience alert.

The story begins with the director, Thomas (Matthieu Amalric), in the semi-dark theater, complaining into his cell phone. “I’ve seen fifty idiot actresses,” he grumps, all of them too modern, and none of whom can cope with the ornate language of the play he’s written, an adaptation of an 1870 novella by Sacher-Masoch. In breezes Number 51, the flighty, gum-chewing Vanda (Seigner), drenched in a sudden downpour, and armed with a patter of cheerful profanity, a pushy manner, and a large carpet-bag full of tricks. When he’s about to send her packing, and she starts to cry, he grudgingly lets her put on her 19th-century gown and read some lines with him.

But something transformative happens when Vanda reads his lines. She becomes almost disturbingly poised and persuasive, playing an aristocratic woman toying with a hapless man infatuated with her. Even though she’s wont to break character in the middle of a scene to complain the dialogue is sexist or stupid, she gets the drift of their encounters, and taps into their percolating undercurrents.

“Conversation itself was erotic,” in those days, Thomas agrees.

As they further explore the play and their characters, the balance of power gradually shifts back and forth between Vanda and Thomas, from scene to scene. First she intuitively adjusts the stage lighting, then she improvises a provocative new prologue with herself as the goddess Venus, draped in furs (her ratty old Dr. Who-style knit muffler). Soon, she becomes the dominatrix the male character craves—as does Thomas himself, judging from the way he loses himself in their play-acting.

But as Thomas himself says of his character, “The more he submits, the more he controls.” So it’s only when Thomas is fully in her thrall that Vanda is ready to show him how completely he’s mistaken power and gratification for love—a subject she knows a little something about.

It can be no coincidence that Amalric is groomed here to resemble Polanski himself in his vintage years (circa The Fearless Vampire Killers), with his lank hair, Beatle bangs, and perpetually worried expression. His Thomas is a naïf posing as a sophisticate, and Amalric plays him with finesse. Seigner is also very impressive, shifting easily from blowsy “idiot actress” into someone far more capable of filling Thomas’ fantasy role than he could ever imagine.

The love of theater and stagecraft is also evident throughout the film, with the actors adroitly miming the removal of gloves and the pouring of coffee as they play out their make-believe scenes. Polanski keeps the action fluid as the characters prowl around the seats, stage, and wings of the theater, and the quicksilver way they slide in and out of character, keeps things from becoming too static.

Overall, Venus In Fur is a saucy bit of chicanery, but so deft and entertaining, we’re happy to be seduced.


VENUS IN FUR*** (out of four) With Emmanuelle Seigner and Matthieu Amalric. Written by David Ives and Roman Polanski. Directed by Roman Polanski. A Sundance Select release. Not rated. 95 minutes. In French with English subtitles.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals