Venus in Fur
A whip-smart, outrageously entertaining battle of the sexes from Roman Polanski
There's plenty of sizzle in Roman Polanski's whip-smart, outrageously entertaining adaptation of David Ives’ play (which in turn was inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novella). Venus in Fur is part feminist morality tale, part satire, part fevered fantasy, which in its battle of the sexes and macabre atmosphere constantly threatens to tip over into grand guignol. It's a two-hander, written by Ives and Polanski and performed with aplomb by Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.
It's a stormy night in Paris and we take shelter in a dishevelled theatre where we find playwright and director Thomas (Amalric) bitching about the actresses who've just auditioned for his female lead. In slinks Vanda (Seigner): beautiful, common-as-muck, trussed-up in provocative attire, and very late. Thomas is initially dismissive but as Vanda performs some sort of alchemy occurs and, reading alongside her, he's drawn into his own sadomasochistic play. She is by turns sexy, shrewd and devilish – acting as an intellectual vigilante, extracting from Thomas personal and artistic revelations as the pair jump in and out of character.
Venus in Fur is an exquisitely written, frequently hilarious verbal sparring match between two unimprovable leads and there's astonishing rhythm to their rapport. Amalric excels as an assailed artist, but this is the role of a lifetime for Seigner (Polanski's wife) and she devours it, seizing her chance to dominate, relishing each juicy morsel and every handbrake turn Vanda takes.
The film's elements – its wicked and witty score, the theatre's incongruous Stagecoach the Musical set – conspire to create something splendidly batty. Polanski amps up the fun factor, helping Vanda grow larger than life and there's a touch of his The Fearless Vampire Killers to the camp, gothic take on the material. By expertly embellishing the theatrical, Polanski has made Venus in Fur thrillingly cinematic.
Limited release from Fri 30 May.