venus in furThis minimalist, intimate offering from renowned filmmaker Roman Polanski signals something of a continuing retreat, as he follows on from Carnage with a similarly smaller-scaled, confined production. The octogenarian director is perhaps starting to show signs of simplification in regards to his work – but they’re certainly no less intricate.

Again like Carnage, he has adapted a stage play to the big screen, this time being David Ives’ Venus in Furs, which itself was inspired by the much celebrated, eponymous novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. As you can see from the surname, it was this piece of literature which gave a name to masochism. Much like the source material, which had been based around the author’s very own wife, Polanski too has ingrained an autobiographical tendency of sorts, providing the lead – and only – female role to his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, blurring the lines between realism and cinema accordingly.

She plays Vanda, an actress who turns up late to an audition for the lead role in director Thomas’ (Mathieu Amalric) new stage production of Venus in Fur. Tired after a long and unsuccessful day’s auditioning, Thomas is determined to just go home and is reluctant in allowing this seemingly chaotic actress to perform. But Vanda is resolute about showing off her talents, and as they begin to read the lines, their own sensual relationship, and the tilting balance of their dominance, seems to shadow that of their literary alter-egos.

Polanski is quite intelligently staying within his means as a filmmaker, not attempting anything too laborious. However he struggles to exploit his limitations triumphantly, as a film that feels contrived in its cinematic enlargement. Where this picture does excel, is within the fast-paced, witty dialogue. To bring the words to life we require two strong leading performances, and neither Seigner nor Amlaric let us down. They have a sexual energy between them, and Seigner displays a wonderful ability to dominate and seduce the beleaguered, pathetic Thomas.

Though their conversations can seem somewhat naïve, this blissful perception of the novel actual brings about a greater understanding of it, illustrated in their relationship, as she becomes a predator, playing with her prey, as the original story is deconstructed smartly. There’s a surrealism to this as well, and in a way Vanda is almost reminiscent of Mary Poppins, as she turns up out of the blue, almost as though sent from an otherwordly place, also compete with a magical bag that never seems to get full.

While that’s pretty much where comparisons to the old Disney production end, this film carries a similar enchantment. However it can become a little overwhelmed by its own self-indulgence and contrivance, which ultimately seeks in damaging your enjoyment of the overall piece.