Though I saw and liked The Pianist, I never bothered to check out Roman Polanski's filmography. It's the whole sexual abuse story, it is such a turn-off. Then months ago, perhaps even a year ago considering how fast times goes by, someone (either Getter from Mettel Ray, or Sofia from Returning Videotapes) picked Venus in Fur (French: La Vénus à la fourrure) in one of their Thursday Movie Picks. It sounded interesting so I added it on my list. I finally watched and damn, it was good.
A playwright, Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Amalric), is about to leave the theatre after a long day of auditioning for the female lead of his new play which he adapted from the 1870 novel, Venus in Fur by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, when an actress, Wanda Jourdain (Emmanuelle Seigner), arrives soaking wet from the rainstorm outside. She doesn't look like an actress and her name isn't even on the audition list, but eventually, with much persuasion, Novachek agrees to read the part of the play with her, and he's immediately stunned by her.
From this point on, there's a story within a story, as we watch Thomas and Wanda rehearse the play. It is both very strange and fascinating to watch them as they really are in character but at the same time, they still are themselves. They often interrupt each other to discuss the characters and the storyline and argue over the sexist and sadomasochist nature of the play, but they are immediately pulled back into the story of the play, and they are immediately and perfectly in character again. It's often hard to know whether they are in character or nor, it keeps you guessing for the whole running time which is why Venus in Fur is such an interesting and exciting experience.
Two engaging storylines that blend together beautifully aren't the great thing about Venus in Fur. The film indeed works very well as a study of the relationship between author and subject matter. Does art imitate life, or life imitate art? The film really raises interesting questions about how much of themselves and their lives authors put in their work, but also how much of an actor there is in a character they play.
The line between author-play and actor-character is just a blur in Polanski's film. As we watch the film, we can't help but wonder how much of Severin von Kusiemski --the character from the play-- is Thomas Novachek, and how much of Wanda Von Dunayev --also from the play-- is Wanda Jourdain. I don't think it's a coincidence both the actress and the character's names are Wanda.
At last, there's the cast. There are only two actors in Venus in Fur, Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. I was really excited about seeing them alone as I loved them both in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and they did not let me down. Seigner is all she needs to be for the character. She is sexy, seductive but also funny as Wanda. Just like her characters, she is in control from start to finish. Mathieu Amalric too is superb in his role. They both deliver the sharp and clever dialogue to perfection, and their chemistry is so electric, intense, that you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen.