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Sunday, May 11, 2014

VENUS IN FUR: Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Review

Emmanuelle Seigner (back) and Mathieu Amalric (front) in VENUS IN FUR
Courtesy of Sundance Selects
2014, 96 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Roman Polanski's adaptation of David Ives' Venus in Fur is one of his best films, not only because it's incredibly entertaining, but because it's also a great piece of filmmaking.  With two actors and one location, Venus in Fur could've easily been a slog.  However, with the talent that this film has behind it, it would've been hard for Venus to fail.  Polanski's previous film, Carnage (which I enjoyed) was an adaptation of a play, but was far less successful than Venus because it always felt stagy with its overly neurotic characters and uninspired cinematography.

Venus in Fur tells the story of Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), a theater director who is about to end a frustrating day of auditions for his new play until a disheveled and uncultured actress, Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski's wife), comes in begging to audition as Thomas is about to leave.  Initially reluctant to allow her to audition, Thomas relents.  Her audition is unusually good.  And that's where I'll leave you because to tell more would spoil the fun.

Venus in Fur always feels alive.  Polanski and cinematographer Pawel Edelman play with the space of the theater in which the film is set.  Depending on the intensity of the action, they open or close the space, making it feel as grand or as claustrophobic as they please.  Carnage, while very entertaining, was visually very plain.  Venus is the exact opposite.  The musical ups and downs of prolific composer Alexandre Desplat's vibrant (and hummable) score perfectly complements the cinematography, and the two work together in perfect sync.

The real stars of Venus in Fur are the two actors, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's wife).  These two starred together in Julian Schnabel's masterful 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and in both films, they have natural on-screen chemistry.  Amalric is perfectly cast as the stressed, mouse-like.  Seigner steals the show.  She is alternately funny and sexy.  Her comedic timing is spot on and the unpredictable nature of Vanda is perfectly captured by Seigner.  Seigner exudes a coolness and magnetic quality in the film's latter half that really makes her shine.  Her intimate scenes with Amalric are truly seductive.

Venus in Fur was adapted from David Ives' Tony-winning play of the same name by Ives and Polanski, and they make every moment count.  Each line, each sequence is in this film is there to build character and mood, and watching the magic that all of these artists created is truly an experience to savor.  Sitting in my seat at the screening of this film, I felt a sense of awe that I rarely feel while watching a movie.  It's rare to see a director show as much mastery of his or her craft as Polanski shows with Venus.  Sitting through Venus in Fur is like being lead down a rabbit hole of intrigue, kinkiness, and debauchery, twisting and turning at will.

Overall, Venus in Fur is a great piece of cinema.  With it's brilliant cast, direction, cinematography, screenplay, and score, this is a movie that I hope people see when released in the United States on June 20.  The film's high entertainment and intellectual value should please arthouse audiences across the country.


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