Cannes Film Festival 2013 review: Venus in Fur by Roman Polanski

2.00

 

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel gave the world the term sado-masochism, the director Roman Polanski is still wanted for questioning in the United States on a sex charge, and yet star Mathieu Amalric doesn’t even take his sneakers off in this tame adaptation of David Ives’ stage play.

In Ives’ version, an actress turns up to audition for a director for the principal role in Venus in Furs. Polanski takes the first of many liberties with the stage script by moving the action from the audition room to a theatre auditorium. In other places, scenes are changed and adapted, and a new abstract epilogue has been tagged on. None of which is for the better.

The solitary location is home to all the action.  It’s a constraint that Polanski has contended with brilliantly in the past. - his first film, Knife in the Water, was a three-hander that took place on a boat - but this is much closer in style and tone to his last outing, the adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s four-hander, Carnage.

But where cinematographer Pawel Edelman found surprising angles and brought the New York apartment alive in Carnage, here the action feels like a play that’s being taped for posterity. It’s all rather flat, which is a surprise because the Edelman / Polanski partnership, that started with his Palme d’Or winning The Pianist and has now reached five films, is usually inventive. 

It all begins rather promisingly. A long tracking shot takes us down a Parisian boulevard and through the doors of a theatre. There we find theatre director Thomas (Amalric) packing up for the day after unsuccessfully auditioning 35 actresses who he remarks to his fiancée on the phone as sounding like ’10-year olds on helium.’ What he needs is a real woman.

Cut to Vanda, played by Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner.  She’s standing in a doorway dressed in leather and a dog collar. Looking good at 46, she makes a ballsy entrance, chewing gum and cajoling the reluctant Thomas to give her an audition. He’s an intellectual, not amused by her coarseness, that is until she inevitably wows him with her performance. But the script, which uses the audition framework to tell Sacher-Masoch’s story expediently and demands the two actors take on different guises, is not as clever as the filmmakers may think.

While Seigner delights playing the sex kitten role, as she did more than twenty years ago when she worked for her husband in Bitter Moon (1992), the actress struggles as the tone turns from comedy to drama.

Amalric is thankfully on far better form than that seen in another Palme d’Or contender, Jimmy P, which showed earlier in the week. The former Bond villain, who has a series of directorial credits under his belt, uses his experience to play Thomas as a malleable character, who is easily manipulated by women.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices