If you’re not familiar with the stage play, then this post may contain some spoilers for the film should you wish to see it.
I rarely go to the cinema, mostly because it is rare that I find something I am willing to sit still throughout for any sustained period of time outside of the theatre or opera which, by their immediate nature I find to be entirely different. Besides which, they have intervals. Sometimes more than one. Indeed, what happened to intervals in the cinema? And why are people eating in the theatre like it’s the cinema? Sometimes, I really don’t understand our topsy-turvy world.
However, back on subject… the other evening, upon my suggestion, I went with one of my French friends to see ‘Venus in Furs’ by Roman Polanski. Thankfully, Polanski’s Vénus à la Forrure is not a faithful interpretation of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch* novella Venus im Pelz but a faithful interpretation of David Ive’s stage play.
Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski’s wife, no less) and Mathieu Amalric.
Mathieu Amalric’s character, Thomas, as the director and playwright begins as the one calling the shots, directing the action but as Vanda seduces and manipulates him, he becomes the actor, the puppet under her direction. Throughout her audition, she transforms from brash and gauche actress to steely Dominatrix.
Vanda challenges the sexist attitudes of various aspects of Thomas’s and Masoch’s view of women. Yet, similarly, she is in various states of undress from black lingerie to black leather corset and mini skirt, objectified for Thomas’s consumption as she alternates between auditioning for the role of Vanda (auditioning for the role of herself?) and seducing him through his own desire.
Interestingly, at the beginning she is wearing a studded dog collar but part-way through removes it from her own neck and places it around the neck of Thomas. It is here that the erotic power play begins in earnest.
It is only at the end that there is a sense of freedom from the various masks and façades that Vanda wears and uses. I was left wondering, like many people I’m sure, who she was underneath it all and what about her was real, and what was for show. There are no clear answers or suggestions for either character and each answer in the film reveals yet another question, just as I like it. It strips, reveals, teases and taunts just as much as Emmanuelle Seigner’s Vanda does.
If you’re hoping to indulge a fur fetish in this film, be warned that Polanski has obeyed by the unwritten rules of keeping the moneyshot at the end. Even then, it is very much a brief tease of Vanda wrapped yet naked in fur, dancing, seemingly finally liberated with Thomas captive. Not necessarily her captive, but a captive of his own passions and lust at the very least.
For boot and leather fetishists, there is a wonderfully slow and seductive close-up scene of Thomas zipping up Vanda’s thigh high boots, the drawn out sound of the zipper mirroring the electric tingle of excitement.
Overall, FemDom triumphs in Polanksi/Ive’s version, compared to the original story and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this take on Sacher-Masoch’s story; it was funny, thought-provoking and, at times, quite, quite sexy. I may even sit still for another viewing of it.
*Funnily enough I was at a friend’s birthday lunch at the weekend, and having a conversation with the guest seated next to me about famous Austrian writers. We both struggled to think of anyone beyond Kafka that was well-known outside of Austria. I can’t believe we both missed Sacher-Masoch, given that the person in question is not only my friend’s Domme but she is Austrian to boot. How remiss of us! I will have to remember to tell her when I see her for Kaffee and Kunchen in a couple of weeks.