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.
All of this works so well that it's impossible not to see what happens through the eyes of both characters, and it's the way power shifts back and forth that provides the insight. Essentially, this is a film about the way books and plays demean women even when the female characters are the ones in power. The snappy dialogue is sometimes a too-pointed debate about male and female roles in both relationships and society, but it's so sharply well-written and played that it entertains us with its mind-boggling genius.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th November 2013
Box Office USA: $0.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $342.2 thousand
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: R.P. Productions, A.S. Films, Monolith Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 89 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriter: David Ives, Roman Polanski
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