Tribeca 2014: The Best Stuff You May Have Missed

04/28/2014 3:30 PM |

Venus in Fur, a movie by Roman Polanski based on the Broadway play

Venus in Fur
Directed by Roman Polanski

Not many directors know how to use a camera like Roman Polanski. His latest starts with a knockout opening shot that tracks down a lightning-thrashed street before pivoting into a nearly empty theater. The doors open before the camera in a way that reminded me of a Disneyland attraction, and the connection is apt in at least one way: you’re in for a ride.

Based on the Tony-winning play by David Ives, Venus is a dark comedy that’s nominally about a bizarre theater audition but is really about the power dynamics between actresses and directors, sadists and masochists, men and women. It’s material that’s firmly in Polanski’s wheelhouse, in other words—his métier, to quote JJ Gittes.

Polanski makes three key changes to the stage version, all of which work in the film’s favor. First, the setting has been changed to a theater from a casting room, giving him more prop and lighting possibilities to play with; second, the director is played by Mathieu Amalric, the ultimate Polanski surrogate and a much older actor than Hugh Dancy (who played it on Broadway), which suggests his fate is due to a lifetime of misdeeds; third, it’s in French, which feels appropriate. Emmanuelle Seigner, as the actress/Fellini-fever-dream, is very strong in a role in which she’s not just sexy but Europeanly sexy: bold and fiercely playful.

Venus, admittedly, works better as a film than a story. You can easily get untethered as the roles and roles-within-roles switch and switch back. But it’s fun to watch Polanski in his element; the opening shot is like he’s throwing down a gauntlet, a master cracking his knuckles and getting to work.