‘Venus in Fur’ Trailer: Roman Polanski’s S&M Desires Get a Little Lost in Translation

By  · Published on April 5th, 2014

Sundance Selects

The first trailer for Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur actually debuted a few months ago. But alas, that trailer was in French, leaving all us non-Francophones out in the dust. We could look at the pictures. We could hoot when the pictures looked nice, scratch our heads in confusion when they didn’t. But anything above orangutan-level comprehension was a bit of a stretch.

Well, now the English-speaking world has its own Venus in Fur trailer, with subtitles and narration and a full grasp of “who are these people and what are they doing.” That’s the good. The bad is that our English-language introduction to Venus in Fur has lost a certain something in translation.

Venus in Fur, adapted from a play of the same name, is the story of Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), a playwright holding auditions for his latest work. So far, the auditions are a bust; every actress who’s come in to read has been flat and uninspired, and Thomas is filled with the indignant fury that can only come when the world just doesn’t understand his genius vision.

Enter Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner). She’s disheveled and yelly and may well be a crazy person, but she knows the part and she knows how to act. So Thomas and Martha do a read of the play, an adaptation of an 1870 novel, also titled “Venus in Furs,” in which a woman keeps a man as her personal sex slave. For reasons that are entirely obvious, Vanda’s potential craziness becomes fully realized craziness, and soon non-prop guns and knives and sexual tension work their way into the read-through.

How does the French trailer set things up? A sign on an auditorium door that says “Auditions” and then Vanda requesting an audition. So simple an orangutan could get the gist of it. The English trailer goes a slightly different route, opening with a long bout of narration:

On a stormy evening in the Heart of Paris, in a once grand theater, a director is wrapping up auditions for his new play. Or is he.

No one’s excited to hear this, not the audience and certainly not the actor doing the narrating (he can’t even be bothered to phrase “Or is he?” like it was a question), It makes the actual footage seem a little dull, like the contact high that occurs when someone yawns next to you.

Which is a shame, because the bits of Venus in Fur that poke out between lines like “How do you know where the acting ends… and the truth begins?” look wild and wonderful and not at all like the narration suggests. The two leads have a suitable mix of sexual tension and “please don’t stab me” tension, and Polanski’s done great things with a handful of actors, a single set and a lot of screamy stabby tension. Knife in the Water, Carnage, etc.

Maybe for his next film he can do the same: a narrator, trapped in a recording booth, forced to read the line “or is he?” and make it sound genuine. I’m getting goose pimples already.

Venus in Fur opens June 20, 2014.