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A rainy night in Paris. An empty theatre. A director in search of his muse. Then she appears, wet from the rain, with running make up, wearing a dog collar on her neck. She has no elegance of the others who came to casting earlier. Nor is she smart, educated or talented enough. But not everything as it seems. When reading starts the tables are turned and the real life play begins.
VENUS IN FUR is originally English language play, opened in Broadway in 2010. The film by Roman Polansky is it’s French language version.
It is hard to critique a film based on a play you had not seen. What works on stage does not always work in a film and vice versa. To build a two-hour movie around two characters (and without interval) is a hard task indeed. You need actors who will own the screen. Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner, who is rightfully known for her movie roles and not just for her famous lover, and Mathieu Amalric (known mostly to English speaking world as the Bond’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE arch villain) are a pair with chemistry, but not enough to start a fire. To keep one interested in a show with only two people you need an explosion of emotions whether it is stage or screen. Seigner’s transformation in the beginning of the movie is quite spectacular, but she does not match her great entrance with anything she does in the scenes to come. In fact she seems quite reserved where the opportunity presents itself to unleash all her demons.
Almaric, who’s character’s gradual submission to his new found muse should progress and turn him into a changed man, happens sort of quickly. But once again it is not an American film, and the “three act character formula” that for some works so well, does not really apply.
VENUS IN FUR has a lot of quirky moments, but also a few boring ones where actors simply recite the lines from a play and what you really want to know is about their real life, which even by the end of the show we know so little of. I guess the real shortfall of the film is that one does not manage to like the characters and when walking out of the cinema start wondering what it was all about. The final diabolical touch in the end is a typical Polanski (I wonder if it really had been in the original play).
There's one very big positive though. During their many years collaboration Polanski managed to turn his wife Emmanuelle Seigner into a damsel in distress (FRANTIC), famme fatale (BITTER MOON) and into a devil himself (NINTH GATE). Does she make a great Venus? She bloody well does!