"Venus in Fur" was one of the true highlights of this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Roman Polanski's adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's (the godfather of masochism) bawdy 19th century story crackles with sexuality and humor.
There are only two people in the cast and both are outstanding. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is a stage director about to head home for the evening. Casting has finally been completed and he is packing up. Through the door walks Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski's wife).
She is incredibly self-assured and demands to read for the lead of the play. Thomas is annoyed and tries to push her aside, but she is not the type who can be easily pushed around. She pushes back, and harder, but it's never in a threatening way. Vanda is powerful, though, and she is soon locked in a battle of wills with Thomas. Their battle melts into the actual play so that you are thrown back and forth between the script of the play and the interaction of our warring couple. The parrying never stops, but there are swings in momentum, with Vanda throwing quite a few verbal haymakers.
What Thomas learns from Vanda is Polanski's version of what all men can learn from all women. She has the ability to go from master manipulator, to seductress, to lecturer, to punisher, to needy, all within the blink of an eye. Thomas is left spinning from her power and he can do nothing to turn the tide back at her. He is overmatched. The question is, how will he deal with this force of nature.
Polanski has a long history of cutting-edge and unusual cinema. "Venus in Fur" is no exception It may never reach the acclaim of his most famous work, but it is very worthy of being mentioned among his other great works. By the time it comes to a close, and the camera pulls away from the action, you will be almost breathless from it all. Is it fantasy? Is it real? Does it matter? Venus is the brightest planet in the sky. "Venus in Fur" is one of the brightest of 2014.