Venus in Fur

Jul 29, 2014

A witty 96 minutes of repartee and gamesman(woman)ship.

Venus in Fur

Grade: A-

Director: Roman Polanski (Chinatown)

Screenplay: David Ives (play), Polanski, from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel

Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner (In the House), Matthew Amalric (Quantum of Solace)

Rating: NR

Runtime: 96 min.

by John DeSando

“She taught me the most valuable thing in the world.” Thomas (Matthew Amalric)

“And what did she teach you?” Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner)

" That nothing is more sensual than pain. That nothing is more exciting than degradation.” Thomas

Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, adapted from Leopold Van Sacher-Masoch’s novel, Venus in Furs, is a two hander with a first-time stage director and adapter, Thomas (Polanski), and an actress (Seigner, Polanski’s wife) trying out for a part in his play at an old Parisian theater. It's as raw a film as it is delicate.

He’s at the end of a long audition day with women who don’t fit the part, and she straggles in when he’s ready to go, in no mood for her tardiness or her lack of sophistication, much less her bondage outfit with dog collar. This time pain hardly seems sensual, until Vanda pulls out all the personality stops by eventually auditioning him.

As in the play of life itself, nothing is as it seems; as in Polanski’s other worlds, identity is a matter of power.  She challenges him about his misconception of her talent (she’s made for the part—even has the character’s name) and proceeds to take a dominant role in acting and interpreting. In other words, the tables turn while woman takes the traditionally male aggressive role and he becomes her slave and even takes her part.  When she ties him to a gigantic phallic cactus, the absurdity is painless, a testimony to imaginative stagecraft and pleasant Freud.

Polanski, never afraid to deal with strong women in his films (Tess and Carnage come to mind immediately), as well as the real-life tragedy of his wife’s murder, places Vanda prominently in each of her frames; his surrogate, Thomas, even looks like Polanski’s younger self.  Thus, the film becomes a convoluted feminist tome while it also comments on the relationship between actors and their directors. Whatever it all may mean about Roman Polanski’s personal relationships with women, it is a witty 96 minutes of repartee and gamesmanship, where roles are fluid, both with characters and actors.

The pain of his self revelations, which she forces him to see, turns out to be a pleasure for a playwright directing for the first time and facing an actress gifted and formidable. Both actors, by the way, are exemplary.

“It's ‘a little love’ you suggest? No, it's the power that interests you.” Thomas

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at