I was more than a little annoyed by the ending of David Ives’s Venus in Fur when I saw it last year at Southern Rep. It seemed like a gimmicky, deus-ex-machina cop-out. So when Roman Polanski’s film version showed up in my Netflix queue, I wasn’t inclined to watch.
However, the film got very high reviews from a number of critics, (its score on Rotten Tomatoes is 91%) and I was stuck with nothing to do for a few hours last week, so I gave it a shot.
The film adaptation downplays the supernatural element that annoyed me so much in the theatre, which was refreshing. However, given the ability to watch more closely, I felt that not all of the reversals the script puts the two characters through are adequately earned, so in many ways, the film did not change my mind about the play itself.
However, I was completely mesmerized by the performance of Emmanuelle Seigner, who plays Vanda, opposite Mathieu Amalric’s Thomas. Vanda enters the film (and the play) as an apparently air-headed actress, scattered, ill-informed, and generally just a hot mess. When Thomas gives in and allows her to audition despite the fact that she’s late, everyone else has gone home, and she didn’t have an appointment, the change from Vanda as wannabe actor to Vanda as performer is electric.
Seigner, who is 48, and two decades older than Nina Arianda, who won a Tony playing Vanda on Broadway, makes an instantaneous switch from airhead to someone in complete control simply by the way she uses her voice. Thomas is startled, and so are we. The moment is both striking and subtle, because Seigner doesn’t raise her voice or use any dramatic “tricks” to command, it simply her inflection and natural ability. I will also say, that as Seigner is supposed to be an avatar of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus, she’s easily sexier than most women half her age.
So despite my ambivalence towards the text, I was happy to see Polanski’s take on it (the ending, in particular) and very happy to have made the discovery of Ms. Seigner, who is in real life, married to Roman Polanski. I will be combing my Netflix queue looking for more of her films.