Sunday, November 29, 2015
Venus in Fur
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
If you can get past the fact that Venus in Fur, a film with sexual themes, was made by Roman Polanski, a man in exile because of his sexual behavior, you might find this movie interesting for the way it explores perceptions of male-female role-playing.
This motion picture, in French, is based on a play by David Ives (who co-wrote the screenplay with Polanski), which was inspired by the novel written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name the word “masochist” is derived – a point noted in the film). The story takes place in a theater (the “h” is missing on the sign outside, possibly indicating that either this is not a first-class locale, or that things are not quite what they seem here). There are only two characters: Thomas, the playwright and director (played impressively by Mathieu Amalric, who looks disturbingly like a younger Polanski); and, Vanda, a woman coming in late for an audition for the part of a woman named – Vanda (played by Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanksi’s wife – which just adds to the blurring of the lines between illusion and reality in this story). We are immediately made to question what is real and what is fiction by the coincidence involving her name. Vanda, the actress, seems to be ditsy, rambling on, and she is dressed like a hooker. We have already heard Thomas complaining how the other women who have showed up for auditions were dressed like prostitutes. He also says that he could play the part better. However, once she starts to read her lines, Vanda sounds totally believable in the role. She knows all the lines, even though she said she just took a quick look at the script. She knows how to adjust the lighting to set the right mood. She has props which fit the right time period for the play, and has brought a smoking jacket to fit the male character’s aristocratic class. (Her knowledge is explained by her saying that she was a private investigator, hired by Thomas’ fiancé to investigate him. This statement is then passed off as a joke. But, is it? It would explain how prepared she is). The irony is that as herself, she is unimpressive, but in a fictional role, she is empowered. Does this mean that in real life women are not allowed to be strong, and can only achieve strength in roles men allow them to play?
Thomas is at first dismissive of her. But, he is then surprised and awed by Vanda’s preparedness. His role of power as the director and writer is eventually taken over by Vanda. She convinces him to play the male role and read with her. She becomes the director, and even improvises, basically re-writing the play. The submissive one becomes dominant. Thomas admits that when he was young, he had an aunt who beat his naked behind. From this act, he says, sensuality comes from pain, and it taught him how to be a man – not an attractive definition of what it takes to be a male. Instead of the male Dionysus being the punisher in sexual debauchery, here, in this story, Venus wields “divine cruelty.”
Later in the film, Thomas passively reclines on a couch, and Vanda becomes his psychiatrist, making him confess that despite his fiancé being rich and the two talking about art and literature, that underneath he is unfulfilled. Thomas likens the relationship between the dominant and the submissive as that between a hammer and anvil. He seems to want to be the anvil, but feels he must reassert his position of the hammer with the actress Vanda. But, the ring tone for his fiancé on his cell phone is from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkries,” indicating that he is submissive in his sexuality in his real life. Vanda is the dominant one on the phone when talking to her boyfriend. But, she, too, seems to alternate between being powerful and sexually submissive in her behavior, in both the role and in real life. Vanda at one point during the audition slaps Thomas, and then kisses him. She appears to be conducting business while signing the contract to be in the play, but then flashes her breast. She transfers her dog collar from her neck to his, and he trembles in ecstasy when it is fastened on him.
In the play, Vanda says that the male character will be her slave for a year, after which they will have sex. It appears that she has the upper hand. But, Vanda, the actress, accuses Thomas of being sexist. She tells the author/director that the more the male submits, the more he has power, because it is his game that is being played, not the woman’s. He asks to have her boots put on him. The zipping of the boots signifies enclosure, a type of bondage she is placing him in. She begins to dress him as a woman – he did mention earlier how he could play the part of a female, possibly subconsciously suggesting his own urge for submission. At the end of the play Thomas has written, the male resumes dominance. Things are different at the end of the film. She has Thomas in female clothing, tied up, telling him how dare he think that she could humiliate her. He has been made to assume the enforced traditional degrading role of the submissive woman. At the end, she undulates as a naked Venus, draped in sensuous fur, taunting him, rendering him figuratively impotent. Perhaps she really is the goddess, as she makes Thomas admit at the end. It would explain how she knows so much. Maybe she is her real self in the play and the actress persona is the fiction. She quotes a line from the Bible: “And the Lord has smitten him, and delivered him into a woman’s hands.” At the end, Vanda has delivered divine retribution.
Next week’s movie is Five Easy Pieces.