Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur
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Director: Roman Polanski
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

It shouldn’t be this way. But more than a few movie enthusiasts will approach the average filmed play – particularly the two-hander – with the feeling that they are about to be cheated. It looks like a slightly lazy way to set about creating cinema.

After the middlebrow brawling of Carnage, Roman Polanski tackles another theatrical piece in this diverting translation of David Ives's off-Broadway hit (itself a re-invention of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel that inspired a Velvet Underground song).

The director brings a few trademark flourishes to the exercise. The opening shots of a rain-battered Parisian theatre summon up an effective gothic foreboding. Polanski injects some proper cinematic energy into the action by allowing his camera to dance energetically about the two principals. It is, however, hard to avoid the suspicion that Polanski is treading water before starting work on a "proper film".

The story concerns Thomas, a playwright failing to find an actress to play the seductress in his own adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch’s sexually transgressive book (plenty of metatextual headaches abound here).


On this particular rainy night, Vanda, a brash, noisy woman dressed like a brash, noisy woman in a sitcom, bursts through the stage door and demands to read for the role. Mysteries reveal themselves. Vanda is not on the call sheet. She seems to have memorised the entire play.

As writer and auditionee get stuck into the text, they find the plays’ characters taking over their psyches. Roles are reversed as Vanda, initially dismissed, begins to assert sexual authority over the writer.

The film, book, play and song have much to say about the inexpressible tension that, in the sadomasochistic space, exists between fear and desire. We want what we don’t want.

Venus in Fur achieves even greater resonance from the cheekiness of the casting. An excellent Mathieu Amalric, nervy as Thomas, looks quite eerily like the young Polanski. An equally fine Emmanuelle Seigner, flamboyant as Vanda, has been married to the director for 25 years. What a colourful home life they must lead.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist