Expert writing, directing and acting help this offbeat drama discover some powerful new themes in a novella that has been scandalising Western society since it was first published in 1870. The book's author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch even gave us the word "masochism". But this film by Roman Polanski and playwright David Ives digs far beneath the S&M to say some startling things about the male-female divide.
It's set in a theatre on a rainy day in Paris, where the actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives late in a disheveled state to audition for the play's writer-director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). But he's had a bad day, and immediately writes Vanda off. Eventually she wears him down, and the moment she starts reading his own words he's transfixed. She not only embodies the character, but she sparks something inside him that makes him question his own work. And as he runs the lines with her, she exerts an odd power over him that shifts in ways Thomas never sees coming.
Even with just two people on a stage, this movie is utterly riveting: funny, sexy, scary, surprising, intelligent and fiercely stylish. Polanski's direction is bold and playful, building a compelling rhythm that charges through 90 minutes of sometimes too-clever dialogue that keeps our minds spinning. And both Seigner and Amalric make the most of the script, packing every moment with insinuation and wit as they play with the ideas raised by the play within the film, which is about a dominatrix and her slave.
Continue reading: Venus in Fur Review
With Ozon's usual sharp writing and direction, this black comedy is a fabulous series of provocations, challenging us to explore how we see, or perhaps imagine, the people in our lives. It's also a playful exploration of the nature of storytelling itself, using a teacher-student relationship to reveal all kinds of uncomfortable truths.
The teacher and student in question are Germain (Luchini), who's tired of teaching literature to illiterate students, and shy 16-year-old Claude (Umhauer), a gifted young writer. His essays spark Germain's imagination because they continue on from each other to serialise his encounters with the family of his friend Rapha (Ughetto). As Claude writes about flirting with Rapha's mum (Sagnier) or becoming pals with his dad (Menochet), Germain becomes gripped by the story. And so does his wife Jeanne (Scott Thomas), who sees this as a wonderful escape from the mundane pressures in her life. But in a private tutoring session with Claude, Germain crosses an ethical line. And things start to get strange.
Writer-director Ozon is wickedly blurring the line between fact and fiction, as everyone who reads Claude's essays imagines the people in ways that fuel their own fantasies. So events unfold through a variety of perspectives, some of which must surely be imagined, especially as Germain and Claude adjust the characters to reveal hidden secrets. Yes, this brings out the voyeuristic tendencies in all of the characters, and in us as well, since we too are living vicariously through people whose lives seem so much more interesting than ours. Even if they are supposed to be us.
Continue reading: In the House [Dans la Maison] Review