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New Release Review - Venus in Fur

Screen adaption of David Ives' off-Broadway play.

Directed by: Roman Polanski
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric


Thomas (Amalric), the writer-director of a play based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novel Venus in Furs, is about to leave his theatre, after an unsuccessful day of auditioning actresses for the lead role, when a latecomer arrives in the form of actress Vanda (Seigner). At first, Thomas dismisses her as another vacuous bimbo, but Vanda (who shares the same name as the character she hopes to portray) convinces him to allow a late audition. To Thomas's dismay, Vanda seems very familiar with not just the play, but intimate details of his own life and psyche.
Polanski's latest opens with a visually impressive POV shot, moving from a rainy Parisian street into the auditorium where the film's events will play out. Apart from a repeat of the same shot in reverse, there's little in the way of eye candy here. As filmed plays go, this is one of the laziest. That one of cinema's great visualists is behind the unnecessary adaptation of both this and the earlier Carnage is a real shame.
The plot is a classic two character power-play, but one that's both uninvolving and misjudged. In the first 10 minutes you can see exactly where the film is headed with its didactic take on class and gender warfare, and few surprises are sprung.
Casting his wife and an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to his younger self creates the impression that Polanski is commenting on himself, and at one point Thomas launches into a tirade about modern society's obsession with child abuse that plays a little too close to the bone. On the surface, the source play would seem to be a feminist text, but it's a classic case of feminism from a male voice; yet another avenging female angel wreaking violence (psychological in this case) on a male "villain". Yet Thomas's only "crime" here seems to be that he's somewhat confused about his sexuality. Polanski and playwright David Ives' crude attempt to denounce sexism ultimately ends in an uncomfortable case of trans-gender shaming. Men are scum, seems to be the message, especially those men who might actually be women.
Recently, the issue of subtitling has become increasingly problematic. Many suffer from poor translation, some are difficult to read (Stranger by the Lake infuriatingly employed white subtitles over images of white sandy beaches for almost its entirety), while others are so badly synced you can struggle to keep up with who is actually speaking the words. The English subtitled print of Venus in Fur suffers from a unique issue. Throughout the film, the dialogue moves back and forth between the words of Thomas and Vanda and the text of the play. The intent of both Polanski and Ives, presumably, is that both begin to blur into one another, so we lose track of whether Tomas and Vanda are speaking their own words or those of the play. If you're reliant on the subtitles, however, this effect is completely negated, as whenever Thomas and Vanda are quoting from the play, the subtitles appear in italics. This gives us an advantage that, as an audience, we're not supposed to have, and keeps us from being as immersed as we should. It's the most explicit argument for having a film-maker supervise the subtitling of their work I've yet seen.
3/10


Eric Hillis

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