Review: Venus in Fur

No one can accuse Roman Polanski of taking the easy option. Venus in Fur is a French film, of an English play, about a play, that is an adaptation of a book … in German. Let’s start with the book. Leopold van Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, a 19th century Austrian work that contributed to the author’s greatest claim to fame – the term “masochism” is derived from his name.

In the film, writer-director Thomas is holding fruitless auditions for his theatrical adaptation of the novel. In walks Vanda, the most inappropriate casting choice imaginable. The next hour and a half sees the pair square-off in an extended enactment of the script. Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner are extraordinary in a vastly different two-hander that will none the less please fans of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

David Ives’ Broadway play, on which this is based, was an acclaimed, powerful and sexy comedy. The film maintains the sex, and some laughs, but Polanski ramps up the sexual politics, gender philosophy and struggle for status. He also adds his unique brand of weird.

The premise is brilliant and the use of the mysterious Vanda as a grand inquisitor of male-dominated writing (and society) is refreshing and powerful. For two acts it is both entertaining and captivating, earning a final half hour that is perhaps one polish shy of excellence, lacking the elegance and inventiveness of that which has gone before.

Venus in Fur may impress or infuriate, but it will undoubtedly fascinate. Sexy, funny and deeply engaging, see it with those with whom you’re happy to have a frank debate about gender, literature and sex.

‘Venus in Fur’ Movie Times