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Venus in Fur

Roman Polanski has always had an affinity for dramas staged in confined spaces: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant. That may be tied to his liking for theatrical adaptations like Death and the Maiden and Carnage. Working from David Ives’ hit play that features two characters on a single set, Venus in Fur may not be his best film, but it might be one of his most typical. And it’s far from his worst.

Thomas Novacheck (Mathieu Amalric) is a playwright whose new production is an adaptation of the 19th century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch about an elegant woman who agrees to let a younger intellectual enslave himself to her. (That phrasing is very specific. It’s the book that that gave rise to the term “sado-masochism.”) He is in despair at ever finding an actress capable of playing the part when in from the rain comes an actress (Emmanuelle Seigner) calling herself Vanda, same as the character.

At first glance, she seems to be as wrong as can be for the part. And she’s not even on the audition list, though she claims to have made an appointment. But he agrees to let her read. That he soon begins to lose control of the situation is not a surprise. But there’s another layer: who is gaming who here? Is the winner the one who manages to make the other take control?

Resisting the urge to use handheld cameras, Polanski films in classic style, making use of the space to be both open and confining as the moment requires. The actors are both superb, juggling the confusion they are experiencing as well as the confusion they are generating in both each other and the audience.

(You can make what you will of the fact that Seigner is Polanski’s wife and Amalric bears more than a passing resemblance to the director: one more game in a film filled with them.)

Opens Friday at the Amherst Theater

Watch the trailer for Venus in Fur

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