Polanski’s follow-up to his film adaptation of
the award-winning play “Carnage” is another adaptation of an award-winning play (in this case an erotic two-hander by David Ives) set in a sole location — in “Carnage” the action unfolded in a cramped apartment, in “Venus in Fur,” a theater. Polanski’s wife and frequent collaborator Emmanuelle Seigner gives a wildly engaging performance as Vanda, an actress who shows up late to an audition for Thomas (Mathieu Almaric), a writer-director with some sadomasochist issues. What transpires over the course of their meeting is a battle of the sexes, where both weave in and out of playing Thomas’ characters, blurring the line between what’s written in his play and what’s happening in reality.
As Polanski said during the press conference following the film, he adapted Ives’ play because it posed a unique challenge for the Oscar and Palme d’Or winner. “It was my dream to make one day a film with only two actors,” he said. “My very first picture ‘Knife in the Water,’ had three characters in a boat. I thought it would be a real challenge. In film school, they love challenges. That really stayed with me. I felt a ton of difficulty making a film of this kind, [but] it went very simply, very nicely.”
Another challenge he relished: keeping the action restricted to a sole location, something not new to Polanski. “The challenge was not to bore the viewer,” he said. “To have two people in one place, it’s very very tricky; to keep the audience on the edge throughout is the natural challenge. That was exciting me.”
Despite the restriction, Polanski in adapting “Venus in Fur” in fact opened up the action of Ives’ play from a cramped audition room to a grand theater. “In France and other countries, unlike like in New York, auditions are done in a theater,” he explained for his change of scenery. “Since I grew up in a theater — at 14 I had a lead in a play in Poland — I had a particular relationship with an empty theater. It would be dreadfully boring set in one room.”
“The play gave me the opportunity to relate all the experiences of my profession,” he added. “I continue to do theater from time to time. I know the atmosphere both behind and in front of the curtain.”
Polanski revealed that when he first read Ives’ play, he immediately knew his wife should play the lead, hence why the production is in French. “She stunned me,” he said of Seigner’s performance, “but I expected to be stunned. She wasn’t so enthusiastic when I asked her to read the play in English. I forced her hand and said, ‘You have to finish reading it.'”
Shortly before Polanski was whisked away for a photocall following the conference, he was asked to speak on his history with Cannes, a festival he’s been frequenting since he was a young film student.
“Back then I could walk around without people bothering me, like some of you will immediately after we’re finished here,” he joked. “My first experience of participating in the competition was disastrous. I was here with a film called ‘The Tenant,’ which was extremely badly received. So when I was here presenting ‘The Pianist,’ I split right after dinner and went back to Paris. On the morning of the awards they called me to tell me I had to come back. I thought it was for the directing award… I’ve lived long enough to know I can direct. Still, they did convince me and just before the beginning of the show they told it was the Palme d’Or. That was a great moment. I can’t say I don’t give a shit. That would be hypocrisy.”