Reviewed by Drew Ninnis
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: David Ives, Roman Polanski.
Runtime: 96 minutes
Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric.
Trailer: “Is it love you're offering? No, it's power.” (warning: stupid voice-over)
Viewed as part of the Alliance Française Film Festival, 2014. No, I didn't realise it was a film by Roman Polanski until the credits rolled.
Plot: Director Thomas is struggling to find a lead for his new play; a stage adaption of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur. After a long day of auditions, Thomas’ evening is completely disrupted as actress Vanda arrives at the theatre to audition for the part. Initially reluctant, Thomas gets progressively swept up in the performance until his own part in the play becomes too close for comfort.
Review: Venus in Fur is an excellent staging of David Ives’ outstanding play, with perfect performances from Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric. Nevertheless, you should not see it. If you have the opportunity, by all means see the play instead.
Polanski’s presence poisons this film; and the meta-textual dialogue that the film invites with the audience becomes, with the sharp material of Ives’ play, extremely distasteful. Venus in Fur is a film that charts the exploitation of women (namely actresses) by ambitious but morally dubious male directors; painting the stage as a theatre for male fantasies of domination and appropriation, and the audience’s complicity as eager witnesses to this spectacle. That Polanski, with his difficult history in this very area, should choose to tackle it is beyond the pale. It seems that as directors age, they entirely lose their sense of irony and decency.
Venus in Fur, then, becomes a wholly unintentional call to Polanski’s audiences to stop being complicit – and abandon this director. One may be tempted to draw a parallel to the recent debate surrounding Woody Allen’s own difficult past, and the accusations levelled against him by his daughter, but the two situations are entirely different. Whether the accusations levelled against Allen are true or not, we will never know – compounding the misfortune for all parties. However, Polanski has been convicted by a court of law. Polanski has been found guilty of using his position as a successful director to exploit the body of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Gailey – resulting in a plea bargain of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse (the Californian equivalent of statutory rape). These are the same charges that are levelled against teachers who have sex with their students; we have little sympathy for them, and we would certainly not continue to encourage them or condone their activities. Yet Polanski’s status as an international director of note protects him; and this is morally wrong.
By continuing to attend and support Polanski’s films we engage in a personal political act which passes judgement on the merit of the work, and indirectly the man who produced them. Perhaps on an individual level it is felt that seeing it or not would make no difference; true, but even a utilitarian sometimes has to be a deontologist and do something simply for the principle alone. Aggregated together, this reasoning continues to sustain the career of a convicted and unrepentant rapist.
That Polanski would then use this platform to contemplate the power dynamics between male directors and female actors is outrageous. Let us consign Polanski’s legacy to oblivion; and send a message that the conditions of the production of a work of art are directly material; perhaps not to its merit, but certainly to its ethical consumption. In the latter we are absolutely complicit, and about that consumption we make a political and ethical choice every time we purchase a ticket.
Rating: Three and a half stars.