Vanda stumbles into a theater from off the street, ready to audition for a play called "Venus in Fur." She's in a bustier, black stockings and leather miniskirt. Thomas, the director, informs her the play is based on a novel, "not the Lou Reed song." She was sure this piece was some sort of "S&M" thing.
But the 1870 novel "Venus in Furs" was by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose last name became the inspiration for the word "masochism." So maybe she's on the right track.
Roman Polanski's film of David Ives' stage comedy "Venus in Fur" is claustrophobic and theatrical, a chamber piece that's almost a filmed play. It's just Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), on stage, doing an overlong audition that toys with issues of directorial control, class conflict and sexism.
It's a playful riff on the material, starting with the casting. Amalric is as close to a French-speaking Polanski look-alike as there is. And Seigner is Polanski's wife. Her unsophisticated Vanda exhausts Thomas' sympathy until she strips off her false eyelashes, dabs off some of the lip gloss and transforms. Thomas is stunned that she knows his new play by heart. He is exasperated by her efforts to deconstruct the play, to infer that its kinkier moments have their roots in his own past.
And he is captivated. She flirts, teases and tempts him.
Polanski plays up the playful side to material that is not as remotely daring as it must have seemed when first written. Seigner and Amalric show their light touches as they slip back and forth, from positions of power to submission.
As slight as "Venus" feels, it's just titillating enough to matter, just twisted enough -- really, casting your wife and a guy who looks like you? -- to suggest that even in his 70s, even with virtually no budget, Polanski can deliver a compelling walk on the kinky side.
PLOT A gauche actress' audition with a director turns into an erotic duet. Unrated (profanity, some nudity, mild violence).
CAST Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
BOTTOM LINE Despite some kinks, Roman Polanski's kinky comedy succeeds.