The wild, weird world of Roman Polanski

Venus in fur

Director Roman Polanski won a César Award at the most recent Cannes Film Festival off the back of this two-hander which explores the nature of sexual attraction.

This subtitled French film is based on the play of the same name written by David Ives, an American playwright, which was in turn inspired by an Austrian novel written by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch. The film won Best Director for Roman Polanski in the 2014 French César Awards.

Interestingly, the film features a main actor who looks like Polanski, and the main actress is his wife. It is a two-person movie, set entirely within a theatre in Paris. The film begins with a French director, Thomas Novacheck (Mathieu Amalric), auditioning actresses for a play. The play is based on a novel about sexual attraction, but the detail of its plot is not discussed.

The audition is unsuccessful, and afterwards, Thomas complains on the phone to his fiancee about the lack of talent that he has just seen. As he goes to leave the theatre, a young actress, Vanda Jourdain (Emmanuelle Seigner) enters from the rain outside. She is wet, distressed, and aggressive, and she wants the director to let her read for the part.

Paradoxically, she has brought along props and costumes that are well suited to it. Thomas relents and agrees to audition her, and for the audition, he takes the role of a man, who enjoys the feel of fur and likes being dominated. In reading for her role, Vanda seems to know every line of the play, and she shows Thomas that she has an insightful grasp of the character she is supposed to be.

The audition proceeds and, as it does, it slowly becomes an intense experience for both director and actress. The attraction of Thomas to Vanda turns from bewilderment to intrigue to obsession. Vanda's attraction to Thomas turns from an attempt to seduce Thomas, to the discovery of the thrill and power of her sexual hold over him.

The film is about the dark side of human nature, and both Vanda and Thomas try to dominate each other. Their interaction becomes sexual, as Thomas attempts to humiliate Vanda, who in turn flirts with him suggestively.

He weakens as she assumes power. The film, as a whole, heavily emphasises sex, and fetish practices, but it engages in sexual innuendo, rather than explicit sexual activity. It is about the psychology of dark attraction, rather than a physical exploration of it, and it is about sexual role-play rather than sexual enactment.

This is an art-house movie for Polanski-lovers that demonstrates a darkness that hides the joy of humanity. It aims to capture provocatively the enormous and bewildering complexities that can exist at times in human relationships, but the assertion of equality might have had a kinder treatment.

- Reviewed by Peter W. Sheehan, associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Venus in Fur (La Venus a la fourrure), starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. Directed by Roman Polanski. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language and sexual references). 96 min. Lionsgate Pictures. Released Thursday, July 17

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