La Vénus à la fourrure [Venus in Fur] (2013)

(On Cable TV, July 2015) There’s a remarkable purity of intention in La Vénus à la fourrure, a psychological thriller adapted from a stage play that almost entirely takes place on a darkened theater stage, featuring only two characters that spend much of their time reciting snippets of a stage play based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs.  You really wouldn’t expect any sustained tension out of this premise, and yet the film builds upon fairly dry foundations until it becomes an unsettling display of psychosexual combat, lead actor and lead actress locked in a duel of wills and kinks.  I’m going to ignore the question of whether you really want infamous fugitive director Roman Polanski to be the one to teach you about perversion, but there is some serious directorial skills on display here as the film does the most it can achieve with very limited elements.  Mathieu Amalric is good as a playwright who finds himself captured by his own creation, but Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski’s wife) is simply astonishing in the lead role –she seems to be playing five or six parts one after the other, simple changes in costume or posture bringing out entirely new sides to her character.  It certainly helps that the script is so densely constructed, referring back and forth between actor, character and character-as-actor, with at least three levels of interpretation constantly feeding off each other.  (A hint for bilingual francophones watching the film: turn on the English subtitles to catch more references.) I wouldn’t call La Vénus à la fourrure an enjoyable film, but it’s certainly a fascinating one that builds and builds until it seems unbearably intense. 

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