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“Venus in Fur”…does Polanski still have “it”?

Roman Polanski has been directing feature films for over 50 years, and his renowned resume is that of a true master. 1962’s “Knife in the Water”. “Repulsion” in 1965. In 1968, came the iconic “Rosemary’s Baby”, followed in 1971 by a violent version of “Macbeth” that screamed of the horrors of Roman’s own life(this Shakespeare adaptation was Roman’s first film back after his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was slaughtered by the Manson Family in 1969). His masterpiece arrived in 1974, in the form of “Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson. “Tess” arrived here in 1980, and then, after a lengthy inactive period–followed by what some would label his “mediocre” years(although I was quite impressed by 1994’s “Bitter Moon”), Mr. Polanski finally garnered the Oscar for Best Director for 2002’s sobering, “The Pianist”. It was something most expected would never happen, after Roman’s sexual assault allegations from 1977 in Los Angeles, provoked him to unlawfully flee the United States the following year. That case has been analyzed ad nauseum, so I’ll refrain from rehashing it here. Whatever his personal failings, I admire the Polanski canon. He is a true cinematic genius.

But he’s been hit-or-miss since for the last dozen years. 2005’s “Oliver Twist” didn’t make much of a splash, and is mostly forgotten now. But include me in the camp that found 2010’s “The Ghost Writer” to be a pretty nifty thriller, and a partial return-to-form. However, 2011’s overwrought “Carnage” left me cold, despite an astonishing Oscar-laden cast that included Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz. It was a very stagey adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play, “God of Carnage”, and though watchable, it was also far from his finest. So now, Polanski gives it another shot, with a new film version of another successful stage play, “Venus in Fur” by David Ives. It will star the 80-year-old Polanski’s 47-year-old wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, in the role that won Nina Arianda a Best Leading Actress Tony in 2012. Seigner, of course starred with Harrison Ford in Polanski’s “Frantic” from 1988, and then followed it up with one of the two female leads in “Bitter Moon” a few years after that. Her only appearance in a film from her husband in the past two decades, was a part in the critically lambasted “The Ninth Gate” from 1999.

So, what’s the prognosis for “Venus in Fur”? Well, the infamous octogenarian did garner the Best Director award at this past ceremony of the prestigious Cesar Awards. And it also stars the talented Mathieu Amalric, who starred with Seigner in the acclaimed “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” in 2007. Also of note, the French-language “Venus in Fur” will be the foreign-born Polanski’s first non-English speaking film in decades. “Venus in Fur” begins a limited U.S. run on June the 20th. I’ll hold off judgement on how much skill he’s retained, until then.


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