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With: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Written by: David Ives, Roman Polanski, based on a play by David Ives, and on a novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Directed by: Roman Polanski
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/20/2014

Venus in Fur (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stage Smite

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Throughout his entire career, from his feature debut Knife in the Water (1962) to the recent Carnage (2011), director Roman Polanski has specialized in wringing psychological tension from just a few characters (or one character) who are stuck and coming to pieces within limited spaces. In Venus in Fur, that place happens to be in the theater, and because it's based on a play by David Ives, some viewers may find it too stagy or stagebound. However, Polanski does not use the theater setting like a stage, and Venus in Fur moves very much like a movie, and a highly skilled one.

Playwright Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is preparing to direct his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel. It has been a long day, he has seen a batch of unpromising and annoying actresses, and he is exhausted. Out of the rain walks Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner), late, wet, and popping gum. She seems all wrong, but she persuades Thomas to give her a chance to audition for the part, a beautiful woman – also called Vanda – who inspires a man to become her sex slave. Surprisingly, the actress seems to know the role extremely well, not only having brought costumes and props, but also having researched beyond just her lines. Thomas begins to think that he's found his perfect actress, but who is she, exactly, and where has she come from?

Polanski uses all the lights, space, moods, and props available to him, including the leftover sets from a prior play (a musical version of Stagecoach). Polanski's wife Seigner stars in her fourth film for her husband, after Frantic, Bitter Moon, and The Ninth Gate); when she's involved, Polanski seems inspired to explore more sexual material. But Venus in Fur is not necessarily titillating or erotic, which also may disappoint viewers. It's more about the psychology of fetish, and whether fetish is demeaning. But, like Carnage, Venus in Fur never forgets to be playful and fluid, always moving, shifting gears, and surprising.

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