In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

Thumb galveston poster


A cliched but sensitively observed crime drama about a gangster's thug and a call girl who go on the run.

Thumb halloween poster


Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Primary venusinfurs 2013 3

Fur Ever Polanski

Based on David Ives' play, which reworked Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's cult 1870 novel into a mind-bending erotic two-hander, "Venus in Furs" is the latest entry in Roman Polanski's ongoing cycle of single-locale power plays. The film is similar both to "Knife in the Water" (1961) and "Carnage" (2011), in that it involves characters struggling for domination in a confined space. This time it's mainly sex, not class or status, that serves as the battlefield. It's so elegant and effortlessly accomplished that "Venus in Furs" served as a perfect closing movie of this year's Main Competition at Cannes.


The film's premise is deceptively simple: a frustrated theater director meets a determined dynamo of an actress, who may be the perfect choice for the main role in his eponymous play. Vanda not only shares her first name with the character she's auditioning to play, but seems to be an actual incarnation of Masoch's fantasy of a demure woman turned into a dominatrix. Thomas starts out as annoyed with the gum-chewing, insult-spurting Vanda, only to become more and more fascinated with her ever-shifting erotic aura. Think Howard Hawks' "Twentieth Century" plus masochistic role-playing and you will get the idea.

With its hall-of-mirrors structure, the film is a two-hander about directing a two-hander, with the text of the play-within-the-film slowly taking over and making the characters turn into their imagined stage selves. As if that didn't sound cerebral already, Polanski complicates matters with pungent casting choices all his own: his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, plays Vanda, and Mathieu Amalric — who bears striking resemblance to younger Polanski — plays Thomas as a narcissistic control freak (as well as the piece's ultimate patsy).

The film is set entirely in an empty Parisian theater, singled out from adjacent buildings by an ominous camera glide in the very first shot, set to playfully spooky hurdy-gurdy music. A thunder storm is approaching, and so is the chaos of sexual confusion. The perverse antics of Vanda and Thomas take place on a stage cluttered with decoration from a previous show: a musical version of John Ford's "Stagecoach," which makes sense both as a play on words and a reference to the western as such, a genre that has always celebrated male virility and resourcefulness.


Among other things, the film plays a bit like a catalog of Polanski's signature obsessions, with a special nod to the transsexual panic of male characters in "Cul-de-Sac" and "The Tenant." Thomas's initial reluctance to play out his fantasies melts away quickly, and the great chemistry between two performers really turns the whole film into a dreamy, funny and scary meditation on how sex and power make the ultimate bedfellows. Even though the concept of Ives' play is too smart for its own good (it all but congratulates itself on the convoluted flourishes of intellectual peek-a-boo), Polanski blurs out its limitations, allowing both Amalric and Seigner to delight in playing off each other.

Just like "Rosemary's Baby" ended with the camera moving away from the Dakota building and leaving the main character to herself after her demons literally came into her world, "Venus in Furs" closes with a gliding shot moving away from the theater, with Amalric changed beyond recognition — unfamiliar to everyone including himself. "Venus in Furs" is a perverse funhouse of a movie, in which identities get pulverized and sexual power play never ceases: "Dutchman" by way of "Vanya on 42nd Street." It's the work of a master dabbling in small pieces rather than epic ones, and putting all touches into perfect place without so much as glancing at his canvas.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

Danson's Racist 'Humor' Appalls Crowd at Roast

NEW YORK It's a tradition of the celebrity roasts at the Friar's Club that everything goes - that no joke is in such ...

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Gets the Deluxe Treatment from Criterion

An epic essay on an epic comedy of the 1960s, now given deluxe treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus