Monday, 23 June 2014


Based on successful play by American David Ives I found this two-person French language film shot on an actual theatre stage (as demanded), a plodding affair.  Roman Polanski has an exceptional filmography that few can equal let alone surpass, so this turned out to be double the disappointment, more especially since I still recall with affection and pleasure his recent 2011 'Carnage', also based on a stage play (though which some have disliked but I still find the funniest film that I've seen in latter years).

The ever-watchable Mathieu Amalric is here the director of a play he has adapted from a late 19th century work of Sacher-Masoch (that same, of course, from whom the word 'masochism' is derived). As the film starts he has finished auditioning, unsuccessfully, too many hopefuls for the single female part and is just packing his things to go home for the night when, who should brusquely appear but gum-chewing, pushy, Emanuelle Seigner (a.k.a Mrs Polanski), all dishevelled from the obligatory thunderstorm raging, and absolutely determined to audition for the part despite his weariness and lack of enthusiasm to see yet another likely failure. He reluctantly gives in to her rude insistence and, once she starts at the beginning of the play - who would have guessed it? - she's all sophistication, elegance, poise, gently-spoken and demure. Not only that, but apart from the briefest of glances at the script, she's absolutely word-perfect. (Goodness me! There must be a real talent at work here!)
He himself reads/plays the single male role with her even though he says he's a director rather than an actor, but he gradually gets drawn into the character he's playing.
The two of them keep jumping in and out of the script, she at some points criticising his play as being untrue to the female character, and telling him off for his flat reading of his own lines. They argue. Then each time they carry on as though nothing happened. And so it continues - until the S/M element starts to take prominence. However, remember that the play being read is set 150 years ago so there's nothing too graphic to be seen other than she in her dominatrix skimpies.
After things start to heat up between the players there's the question of exactly who is dominating whom, but for me it was clear within the first few minutes what path this film would take. Anyone who remembers Polanski's much better 1976 film, 'The Tenant' will know too.

At least twice I found myself falling asleep, even though it's only slightly over an hour and a half long. I just wasn't that interested in either of them. However, I did hold out to the end although the totally unsurprising 'twist' in the final minutes didn't exactly set the film alight.

In my books a failure though, damning by faint praise, it's not the worst I've seen this year..........................3/10


  1. I wasn't aware that this successful stage play was turned into a film and directed by Polanski. Yes, I am in total agreement with you about "Carnage" being one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time. I saw "Carnage" on B'way with the original cast and hated it. The movie version came as a complete surprise and delight.

    I never saw the acclaimed B'way version, of "Venus" but it featured the gorgeous Hugh Dancy and the talented Nina Arianda who was awarded a Tony.

    Here we have another mystery: Why has a successful stage play, directed by a brilliant man, gone so awfully wrong?

    1. It's only one person's opinion (mine) that it's a dud, Paul. Currently, the average rating on IMDb is 7.6, so it may be early to write it off for yourself. I'd still suggest that you see it.

      I know you've blown hot and cold on 'Carnage' One more view I read more recently is that it's Polanski's 'worst film ever'! Big claim - and, whatever one thinks I don't see how it can be taken seriously. I very much look forward to seeing it again, and so far haven't had the chance to.

    2. This morning, Video On Demand added this to the list of available new movies. I followed your suggestion and watched it.

      I don't know if my impression of the movie would have been the same if Polanski had not directed it. I thought Almaric was a doppelganger for his director and there was a dark subtext where Thomas indignantly refuses to be identified with child abuse. And, at times, the players seemed to be playing their real selves.
      Because Polanski directed this and there was much to look for, I would rate this a 7/10. However, if it were another director, it would probably be a 5/10.

      "Carnage" seems to have completely disappeared. By this time, it should have appeared on one of the many premium movie stations, but it never has. I'm glad I purchased the DVD and can enjoy it any time I want.

    3. Now both you, Paul, and H.K. (below) have noted the physical resemblance of Amalric with the younger Polanski and I do remember being struck by this during the film; in fact at times it was quite uncanny. I find it hard to believe that the director would have been unaware of this.

      My harsh, negative feelings about the film are clearly in a minority, but even thinking back on it it seemed very much a 'ho-hum' affair which might have been more interesting in the 1960s, but now it all seemed so passe. For me much of that arises from the play, granting that it might have more bite in the theatre where there would be a frisson of excitement as to how far the live action would go - something which hardly exists in cinema.
      I think Polanski did what he could with it but, I repeat, it seemed very much a case of flogging a dead horse.
      (I'd forgotten about the brief paedophilia refernce.)

  2. I am so sorry to hear this. Coincidentally, I saw the play last month. I don't know Ives' work well, this is only the second of his plays I've seen but I liked it very much.

    I didn't know there was a film being made until I heard a review of it last week on Public Radio. That review was not a rave but was generally positive. The reviewer did comment it was unsettling that RP cast his wife and then hired and actor with a strong resemblance to himself to play the director.

    I generally like RP's films. I liked "Carnage" though I think that play lends itself to adaptation to film more naturally than "Venus..."

    1. Although I wouldn't care to see the film again, H.K., I wouldn't mind seeing it on stage. I think it needs audience complicity to work, though I still didn't think it was a particularly good screenplay. You would know better what has been changed for the screen, though even there it looked 'stagey', as it was meant to be.
      I didn't know Ives at all. As you've seen this one on stage I'd expect you to be disappointed by the screen version, though would in now way warn you off from seeing it.

    2. I am certain I will seek it out when it is available in the area or on cable.

      It sounds like the film has the same look/feel as the play so it is possible you might not like it either. I had a lively discussion last weekend with a friend who saw the same production I did and she absolutely loathed it. Her concerns were more political than artistic however. She regards it as anti-feminist and a little misogynist. I would call it more post-feminist than anti-feminist and I don't see misogynism in it at all. "...eye of the beholder", I guess.

      The other Ives piece I've seen is a collection of short, one-act plays that are performed together under the collective title "All In The Timing" They are interesting though some are definitely better than others

    3. Thanks for that, H.K. Sounds very much like Ives is a name to be reckoned with, or will shortly become one. I must check him out.
      Now that you've said what you did about your friend's opinion of 'Venus' being, to a degree, misogynistic I must confess that there were a couple of moments, especially towards the end where I did squirm a bit for that reason, but then I wasn't sure if the words of female subservience ( I won't say exactly when and uttered by whom for fear of spoiling it for others) were meant to be taken literally or it was a mocking tongue-in-cheek delivery. Maybe ambiguity was what Ives had intended - or, on the other hand, is the impression that Polanski has left it open to interpretation a success or a weakness. I leave the question open.

      When you do get to see this film do let me know what you think and how it varies, which it must, with the theatre production you saw.

  3. Well I liked the play anyway,

    1. If the film was a fair reflection of the play then I didn't care for the latter; though given the chance I'd still like to see it, if only through curiosity.