Venus in Fur

All the world’s a stage

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wickedly smart and wickedly playful, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of David Ives’ Tony-nominated Venus in Fur works on so many levels, it’s almost dizzying. A two-character piece about power, perversion, subjugation, seduction, the battle of the sexes, and the relationship between an actress and her director, a director and his star, the play opened Off-Broadway in 2010, moved to Broadway in 2011, and subsequently has been staged all over the place.

Polanski’s version—translated into French, and starring his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Mathieu Amalric, who bears a striking resemblance to Polanski—opens with a melodramatic sweep of music (Alexandre Desplat can do no wrong), as a camera rolls up to the swinging front doors of a theater and takes us inside.

There’s an audition notice taped to the poster of the play about to depart (a musical of Stagecoach), and inside, a wildly frustrated Thomas Novacheck (Amalric) is on the phone, griping about the hopelessness of the casting process. None of the women he’s tested for the role of Vanda von Dunajev, a 19th-century consort of icy intelligence and elegance, sprung from the pages of the Austrian novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, has come anywhere close.

Novacheck has adapted this bristling 1870 erotic fantasy, about a woman who agrees to take on a Viennese intellectual as her slave. The term masochism was born from the book and its author’s name.

Then, in walks a rain-soaked, mascara-streaked actress, desperately late for her audition—and, at first glance, absolutely wrong for the part. Dressed in streetwalker gear, with a dog collar and a tattoo, she’s as far from the character she aspires to play as you, or Novacheck, can imagine.

That her name happens to be Vanda—Vanda Jourdain—is only the first thing to throw the director. By the end of their time together, beginning with Novacheck reluctantly agreeing to let her do the first few pages of the script, he’s been thrown around more than a basketball at an NBA game. He’s been thrown under the proverbial bus, too.

Seigner’s transformation from a seemingly clueless ditz (she misses the point, she muddles the words ambivalence and ambiguity) to a woman of uncanny perception is astonishing. And her Vanda continues to astonish Novacheck. Without laying a hand on him (well, for the first two-thirds of the film, anyway), Amalric’s haughty artist looks increasingly stunned, as if someone has spun his head around, humiliated him, seduced him, shaken him to his core.

Set, as it is, in a theater, Venus in Fur is also very much about the process of bringing a performance to life. It’s about stagecraft, and about the craftiness of (good) actors, about power changing hands—from the playwright to the person assigned to inhabit the role. The film should be required viewing in acting classes.

It should be required viewing in classes about human sexuality, sexual dynamics, psychology, too.

Hell, it should just be required viewing.

More Film...
Human Rights
New documentary focuses human rights film festival

For 17 years, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival has explored far corners of the world, documenting injustice and hardship, but always with a bittersweet tang that the human spirit will endure and in some cases triumph. The festival’s overarching message is that we must approach…

more »
Of history and legend

The conflicting forces that shape the Chilean national identity have been an overarching theme in the work of Pablo Larrain, whether it’s the festering chaos and violence of the Pinochet regime in Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No, or the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic church in The…

more »
A mother’s love

Julieta is a departure for the great Pedro Almodovar. There’s not a laugh in it. Instead, there is an engrossing story about a mother’s fractured relationship with her daughter, seen through a long arc, from conception to—well, you have to see the film to find out.

Is lack of humor a…

more »
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award


17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival


Farm-to-Table Trade Meeting

8:30am|Bellingham Technical College

Community Preparedness

2:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Baker Backcountry Basics


All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Putting the kick in cross-country


Dressings, Sauces and Stocks

6:30pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Prawn Particulars

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op


7:00pm|Village Books

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

IGN Cascadia Northwood Steak and Crab
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award


17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival


Community Coffee and Tea

9:00am|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Garden Design Class

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Handmade Pasta Class

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Kombucha and Kefir

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Frankie Gavin

6:30pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom


7:00pm|Village Books

Nothing simple about it


Mike Allen Quartet

7:00pm|Unity Spiritual Center

Panty Hoes

9:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award


17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival



6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Pasta Faves

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Between Two Worlds

7:30pm|Make.Shift Art Space

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

see our complete calendar »

IGN Cascadia Northwood Steak and Crab Trove Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Bellingham Technical College Village Books