Sunday, July 13, 2014

Venus in Fur (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Venus in Fur

Roman Polanski's adaptation of David Ives' Off Broadway play "Venus in Fur" makes a fine and eerie witches' cauldron of festive menace. Brimming with sex and repressed sensation, this psychological story within a story is a  dark circus hat of tricks, and its sleight of hand will keep you guessing until the last pinch.

Playwright Thomas Novacheck (Mathieu Amalric, Quantum of Solace) is running late after a long day running auditions for his adaptation of a scandalous novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who is credited with havng popularized sado-masochism in the late 1800s.

All Novacheck wants is to leave and join his fiancée, but he is hindered by a violent storm that rages outside.

As if delivered by a squall, Vanda Jourdain (Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner) enters the dark theater with great cacophony. She is voluptuous and brash, peppering the harried Novacheck with questions and nonsense. She wants to audition for The part, the proper society lady who is a temptress under wraps also named Vanda.

The author wants no part of it.

Vanda stalls Novacheck, first with small talk then with little personal details from her. He is further distracted by the overt carnal sights of Vanda's leather outfit glimpsed askance. Just as he attempts to answer his cellphone during a horrid clap of thunder, Vanda transforms into character as the upper class lady of leisure and Novacheck becomes instantly mesmerized.

He is hooked.

Each time the author attempts to break away from the hyper Vanda and return home, she gives him more dialogue and he is both enchanted and aghast, finding it impossible to end a scene.

Vanda sometimes breaks character, telling of intimate details. Novacheck is both mortified and stuck by adoration by turns, often in the space of seconds.

Vanda is a shapeshifter, part chattering chipmunk, part serpent and a series of knots appear, born of longing, curiosity and aggression.

In this two-person play, Seigner and Amalric are terrific with a porous and slick chemistry.

Seigner is a churning physical engine of gesture and suggestion, who can turn into a lounging vixen of bedroom butter quicker than a dash of mascara.

 Amalric is excellent as a man who is all nerves, an anxious and spring-loaded pen without release or expression. There is something of Dirk Bogarde in his role as a taciturn and sometimes willing cypher, a blank page.

What is genuine and real between these characters and who remains the most authentic?

The role reversals and rapid speeches become dizzying in their very deviltry. Despite these schizoid conundrums, though, the tension never wavers.

In style and structure, the mania of the narrative may remind some of Ken Russell's adaptation of Wilde's "Salome" with all of its decadent teasing.

Fans of Polanski's oeuvre will be well rewarded as the master hallmarks are all here: a slate grey sky, a warlock's pot campily echoing "Rosemary's Baby" (along with the mention of a baby's sable wrap). There is a claustrophobic sense of space that will bring to mind "Repulsion" and some transgenderism that speaks of "The Tenant."

Who else but Roman Polanski can depict a leather thigh-high boot as some living selfish animal that is also forlorn and sad, where a curve of lipstick becomes a sign of Old Nick?

The director hits upon these elements like sacred runes. Indeed, they have become entrenched within him as part of a personal vocabulary. But rather than shaking our heads, we seem to want more.

"Venus in Fur" continues the auteur's often singular, but usually provocative hallow feast.

In showing a man driven catatonic in horror and absurdity, the exiled and hermetic creator appears to joke his audience into submission and we fall.

Once more, Polanski's conjuring trick is to give both belly laughs and Beelzebub (a combination of the silly and the almost scary) equal measure.

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