Passing the Audition
Domination and Power in Polanski's Venus in Fur
By Ned Lannamann
Roman Polanski’s new film is set in a Paris theater, with a cast of two. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is wrapping up auditions for his new play when Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) comes out the rain. She's coarse and slatternly—the exact opposite of what Thomas is looking for in his leading lady—but once she begins to read the part, he's transfixed.
It should be mentioned that Thomas' play is an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's lurid novella “Venus in Furs,” the story of a man yearning to be dominated by his mistress. Thomas says he's more interested in the relationship between his two protagonists than in the kinky sexual elements of the story, and the delight of Polanski's film—itself adapted from a play by David Ives—comes from the varying levels of illusion and delusion in which the two characters find themselves entrenched.
It also should be mentioned that Amalric looks a lot like Polanski, and that Seigner is Polanski's wife in real life. Without a doubt, the director is acknowledging himself—and his notorious past—in the film. The role of dominator shifts throughout Venus in Fur, although it's clear that the one who asks to be dominated is the one inherently in charge of the relationship. A man may state a desire to be fully dominated by a woman, but this is often just fantasy and playacting. What would it be like if a man was truly stripped of his power, in the same way that women are still, to this day, dominated by men in virtually every aspect of society? Well—it wouldn't be sexy.
It also should be mentioned that Venus in Fur is wickedly funny. It's probably Polanski's funniest since Rosemary's Baby. Propelled by little more than sharp dialogue and two expert performances, Venus in Fur is sexy, smart, and self-effacing. Say what you will about Polanski, but the man can make a movie.
Tin Pan Theater