The David Ives play turned movie, Venus in Fur, directed by Roman Polanski, is a match made in heaven. This is a two-character story. It is set late one night in a Paris theatre, on the stage. It is in French, sub-titled.
The writer and director of a play, Thomas Novachek, (Mathieu Amalric) somewhat reluctantly auditions an actress, Vanda Jordan, (Emmanuel Seigner), for the female lead in is play. Vanda, (the name of the play’s character as well as the name of this actress) has arrived very late for the audition.
The two get involved in a complex mix of role play and real life, blurring reality and fiction along the theme of the 1870 novel by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (who gave his name to “sadomasochism”). The very complexity of the brief relationship between the director and his auditioning actress is an archetype for the problems of power imbalances and balances within every relationship, but particularly within sexual relationships.
By BDSM standards the movie is somewhat on the tame side (ok, very, very tame), but it unpacks issues of gender inequality as a social construct and the ability of women to dominate men through their sexual power. The play seldom loses touch with the sexual excitement which goes along with consensual degradation and pain. Our hero points out that nothing is more sensuous than pain, while our heroine warns him that his ideal woman may be more cruel than he cares for.
The joy of the work is that one is never quite sure whether we are in the script of the play or in the happenings of the evening or even in the book upon which the play is based. The viewer is drawn into the intrigue of a woman who knows the words of a play about which she claims profound ignorance.
The play was produced at Montecasino by Pieter Toerien last year, and I was surprised at how similar the play and the film were. The tension is all in the power play of the couple as they veer between domination and submission, switching from moment to moment.
Providing that one understands that this is not a voyeuristic exploration of BDSM, this is an interesting movie and one worth seeing as part of the Polanski canon.
Venus in Fur will be playing at Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town from Friday 15 August 2014.