"Venus in Fur": Roman Polanski's Tepid Look Behind the Curtain

Roman Polanski's new movie has no right to be as tedious as it is. Based on the Tony-winning play by David Ives, with whom Polanski adapted the script, Venus in Fur does little more than pose an art-film question for the ages: What use is cinematic sexual provocation if it becomes deadeningly cerebral? It's a shame, as the setup seems so promising: Alone in his theater one stormy night, Parisian stage director and presumptive Polanski surrogate Mathieu Amalric struggles with a play he's adapted from the writer whose name and work gave us the word masochism. This requires a just-right leading lady, pointedly elusive until muse incarnate and real-life Polanski wife Emmanuelle Seigner bursts in demanding an audition. They work through the material, and some issues. "Am I insufferably pedantic?" the man eventually asks. "Yes, but it's kinda cute," replies the woman. The rest is schematic, a controlled swirl of confusion between submission and domination, between life and art. As with his Carnage and Death and the Maiden, Polanski seems untroubled to have made a film of such prominent play-like shape. Certainly he knows his way around the power dynamics of male-female relations. Has he resorted to phoning it in? Venus in Fur does have subtle flourishes of style — in the two actors' unimpeachably fine performances, and in the sound cues supplementing their occasional stage-

Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric are acting.
Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric are acting.

direction pantomimes. It's not explicit, and doesn't need to be, but it does seem strangely chaste by contemporary standards — intelligent, eloquent, entirely professional, and boring. In mostly unbecoming ways, this movie feels like it was made by an old man.

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