~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Venus in Fur
6:00 each evening
1:00 matinees Sat & Sun
Not Rated; 96 minutes
In French w/subtitles
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer (excerpted)
Wickedly smart and playful, Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Tony-nominated play works on so many levels, it's almost dizzying. A two-character piece about power, perversion, subjugation, seduction, the battle of the sexes, and the relationship between an actress and her director, a director and his star. Polanski's version - translated into French, and starring his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Mathieu Amalric - opens with a melodramatic sweep of music, as a camera rolls up to the swinging front doors of a theater and takes us inside.
There's an audition notice taped to the poster of the play about to depart, and inside, a wildly frustrated Thomas Novacheck (Amalric, bearing a striking resemblance to Polanski) is on the phone, griping about the hopelessness of the casting process. None of the women he's tested for the role of Vanda von Dunajev, a 19th-century consort of icy intelligence and elegance, has come anywhere close. Then, in walks a rain-soaked, mascara-streaked actress, desperately late for her audition - and, at first glance, absolutely wrong for the part. Dressed in streetwalker gear, with a dog collar and a tattoo, she's as far from the character she aspires to play Novacheck can imagine.
Seigner's transformation from seemingly clueless ditz to a woman of uncanny perception is astonishing. Set, as it is, in a theater, Venus in Fur is also very much about the process of bringing a performance to life. It's about stagecraft, and about the craftiness of (good) actors, about power changing hands - from the playwright to the person assigned to inhabit the role. The film should be required viewing in acting classes. It should be required viewing in classes about human sexuality, sexual dynamics, psychology, too. Hell, it should just be required viewing.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
8:15 each evening
3:30 matinees Sat & Sun
Rated R; 125 minutes
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly (excerpted)
Hollywood certainly isn't breaking a sweat to come up with new ideas. So when a cinematic vision as boldly original and weirdly idiosyncratic as Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer arrives amid all the wheezy sameness, attention must be paid.
Set in the near future, after an attempt to counteract global warming has backfired, the entire movie takes place on a hurtling art-deco locomotive that circumnavigates the globe at a rate of one revolution per year and holds all that remains of our population. Survivors are ruthlessly subdivided into warring classes in segregated compartments. The soot-covered 99 percent are penned in like steerage refugees in the tail of the train, where they subsist on gross, gelatinous protein blocks and are powerless when armed thugs confiscate their children. Closer to the front are the fat cats living in decadent comfort. They worship an Oz-like figure named Wilford who resides at the very head of the train and sets the Darwinian rules.
There's nothing particularly subtle about the film's environmentalism and class-warfare themes. But if you think that Bong, the mad genre stylist behind 2006's The Host, felt pressure to play it safe in his English-language debut, guess again. He seems to have built his bizarre bullet-train world with total unfettered freedom. Watching it, I was reminded of the first time I experienced The Matrix or District 9. Snowpiercer sucks you into its strange, brave new world so completely, it leaves you with the all too rare sensation that you've just witnessed something you've never seen before... and need to see again and again.