Following on the heels of 2011’s Carnage, Roman Polanski again transports the stage to the screen with Venus in Fur, an adaptation of David Ives’ 2010 Tony Award-winning play about tension that grows between a playwright and an auditioning actress. Relocating the action from NYC to Paris, Polanski stages the nightlong rehearsal between author/director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) and mysterious Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) with a fluidity and grace that captures, from moment to moment, the characters’ shifts in relationship, with Thomas’ initial sexist arrogance soon destabilized by the imposing Vanda’s transition from messy know-nothing to domineering sex kitten.
Amalric and Seigner (who previously worked together in 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) exude liveliness, eroticism, and fury, which helps sell Ives’ narrative twists. Yet the fact that their characters’ rapport soon mirrors the central sadomasochistic romance at the heart of Thomas’ play – a modern updating of Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel Venus in Furs – is a stagey and schematic revelation that’s telegraphed so early on that it drains the proceedings of any surprise. Sexual power dynamics have rarely been this obvious, and ordinary.
While fiction and reality collide with leaden results in Polanski’s latest, Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood is more successful at combining the fantastical and the real – or, rather, the “real,” as Tukel’s film reimagines vampire stories through the lens of a Brooklynite whose lazy, go-nowhere schlub life is barely altered by a bloodsucker’s bite.
With an off-the-cuff weirdness and inappropriateness that makes him seem like a Turkish variation on Zach Galifianakis, writer/director/star Tukel generates consistent humor as Eric, a New York misanthrope whose day-to-day routine of slacking off at work, masturbating to pictures of his coworker in the office bathroom, and underwhelming women sexually is upended when he’s turned into an undead ghoul with a hunger for blood. That development has ramifications for Eric’s attempts to win back ex-girlfriend Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman), though Tukel wisely eschews conventional man-child-grows-up moralizing for a looser and funnier horror-comedy story about the limits of maturation, and the everlasting pleasures of nasty threesomes.