Director Roman Polanski. R.P. Production/A.S. Films./Monolith Films (15)
Cast and credits
Producers: Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde.
Writers: Roman Polanski, David Ives.
Camera: Pawel Edelman.
Music: Alexandre Desplat.
Sets: Bruno Via.
Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric.
Frustrated by the lack of suitable actresses for the lead part in his new play, director Amalric is astonished when the disheveled Vanda (Seigner) turns up at the end of the day and not only knows the lines off by heart, but seems to inhabit the very essence of the character. But Amalric’s elation soon turns to obsession.
“Normal love isn’t interesting. I assure you that it’s incredibly boring” controversial director Roman Polanski once said.
So he is well placed to helm this titillating and sumptuously amusing sexually forward two-hander between his real-life wife Seigner and her Diving Bell and the Butterfly co-star Amalric.
Polanski’s previous forays into erotically slanted cinema include the disastrous Bitter Moon (1992), also starring his wife Seigner (intensely irritating), a film so artificially sexy it made a shelf-full of bibles seem naughtier. It is with much relief that this hits the nudey-rudey bullseye right in the centre.
Unlike with Bitter Moon where she dragged the whole film down with an immature and wooden turn, here Seigner is electrifying and invigorating as Vanda, a rough, down on her luck and vulgar actress who somehow manages to nail every psychological and emotional nuance of a complex character where more than 30 actresses have abjectly failed. This is a confident and arresting performance and, were it not for Amalric, she could probably have held an audience’s attention on her own.
As it is though, Amalric is up there with her as the chauvinistic, perfectionist and arrogant writer-director who, like his prized writing, is slowly taken apart piece by piece by Vanda and then put together again as a nervous and subservient shadow of his former self. The two complement each other intuitively – this is a great double act for the viewer to consume, with enough satire, wry observation and unbalanced actions.
Although essentially a straight stage-to-film adaptation of the play by David Ives, this benefits the film version by helping to concentrate the camera on the increasingly perverse interactions of the two characters.
Polanski squeezes in a bravura cinematic opening however, an endless and lonely avenue of trees swaying in the wind. He closes with a smashing shot as the camera pulls away from the desolate theatre, leaving Amalric tied up inside, abandoned like the building. He also introduces some clever and only just perceptible sound effects to heighten the play acting, imaginary paper rustling as it is folded, the scratch of a ‘pen’ as a ‘note’ is written, helping to further blur the lines between fantasy and reality in this teasing ‘play within a film’.