Reel Experiences with Robert Humanick: ‘Venus in Fur' offers sexual politics worth submitting to

“Venus in Fur” is a movie that revels in deception, a conceit that extends from the filmmaker to the subject matter to the audience, and back again. Suggesting the sexual role-playing equivalent of a Russian nesting doll, the film was adapted from the eponymous stage play by David Ives, which was itself inspired by the controversial Austrian novel “Venus in Furs” – and that’s only the start of the mysterious intrigue at play.

As the film opens, theater director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) has just concluded auditions for the titular play, when an actress named Vanda (Emmanuelle Singer) arrives. Despite Thomas’ objections, she convinces him to allow her to read for the part of the lead, also named Vanda, a role that she has obviously done extensive research on. The play concerns a man in love with Vanda, and who longs to be dominated by her. Despite his insistence that he does not relate to the material at a personal level, the readings between Thomas and Vanda quickly become ambiguous, with the performers and their performances oscillating between fantasy and reality.

Those with even a passing familiarity with director Roman Polanski will know past offense as a rapist, and while it is not unfair to judge him for this, one need only look at any of his films to know that this is a man constantly struggling with his own sins and sense of morality. “Venus in Fur” is ripe with self-reflexivity, with Thomas clearly a surrogate for Polanski, who audaciously cast his wife, Singer, as Vanda. The ouroboros nature of the script is deepened by the masterful filmmaking. The camera is its own character in this intimate setting, with each visual stroke another loaded gesture or turn of phrase in this tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

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“Venus in Fur” opens at the GoggleWorks Film Theatre on Friday, Sept. 5.

Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com

Follow Rob on Twitter @rhumanick