Synopsis: The story of Severin and Wanda, young lovers who entangle in a passionate and strangely violent love affair, in which masochism plays the lead role. Severin contracts himself as servant, house-keeper and lover, while Wanda learns to enjoy her role as torturer. Perversely, she humiliates him to the limit by taking another lover, breaking the unwritten rules.
A multi-layered beautifully shot film in which the boundaries between fantasy and reality are constantly transgressed. Inspired by the novel of the same name by Leopold von Sacher Masoch.
Venus in Furs 7.25
eyelights: its aesthetic quality. its cinematography. its beautiful people. its mood.
eyesores: its storytelling. its crap overdubbing.
“This is not love”
‘Venus in Furs’ is a Dutch motion picture based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s literary classic, ‘Venus im Pelz’. Released in 1995, it’s the first film by by indie art film producers Maartje Seyferth and Victor Nieuwenhuijs, who co-wrote and co-directed it.
The 67-minute black-and-white film observes the power dynamics in Wanda and Severin’s relationship – with Severin insisting on being subjugated by Wanda under the name of Gregor, and Wanda gradually transitioning from hesitant participant to willingly cruel mistress.
It’s essentially a counterpoint to ‘Histoire d’O‘.
The film is notable for its aesthetic quality: shot on 35mm film, the photography is as stunning as it gets for a low-budget debut; many shots would make great still pictures. It seems as though its dual directors planned most of their scenes around their visual content.
It makes an impression right from the onset, with Severin sitting by himself on an oversized bench in a huge hall, dwarfed by the massive columns and a large entrance. It looked like it was designed by giants, serving to highlight his loneliness and sense of isolation.
I have no idea if this is a real location of if the filmmakers made use of models and practical effects to give the impression that Severin was in this place, but it’s awe-inspiring to see. Its design is both ostentatious and pretentious, far too grandiose for words.
I’d love to visit a place like that.
Given its budget, the rest of the picture makes use of simpler spaces, such as a passenger car or a mansion. But Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs find ways to maximize their potential. They certainly had an eye for photography, as nearly every scene served up postcard-ready stills.
The sexy and BDSM scenes in particular were framed meticulously, taking advantage of their two subjects’ corporeal beauty, caressing them with their cameras. They also dressed the sets in sensuous and/or artsy ways that overcame their monochromic limitations.
‘Venus in furs’ is an aesthetically-pleasing film.
But it was obviously made by first-time filmmakers, in that its narrative isn’t always clear and the construction can be wobbly at times. It sometimes feels like an ambitious film class project, complete with overtly artsy inserts and even an abstract dream sequence.
Its indulgences and frailties can be forgiven, though: it may be short on plot, but the picture is heavy on atmosphere, lingering as it does on breathtaking imagery. Sometimes that’s suitable and it’s enough to transport an audience to another place and time.
My only true complaint comes in the fact that it was filmed in Dutch, and then was overdubbed in English. Poorly. The voices just didn’t match the characters or their lip movement. This decision is dumbfounding: movies are always better in their native language.
(To make matters even more otherworldly, I was watching a French DVD with irremovable French subtitles.)
Though I wasn’t drawn to the fetishistic aspects of ‘Venus in Furs’, or its BDSM roots, it remained appealing because of its visual flair; it’s an attractive movie bursting with attractive shots and attractive people. It also builds a contextually-appropriate mood.
Would these qualities be enough for most people? Probably not. I suspect that most people would either want more plot development or characterization. Personally, I think that this kind of art film also has its value; given a chance, ‘Venus in Furs’ can be fairly satisfying.
I’d love to see Seyferth and Nieuwenhuijs’ other films.
Date of viewing: February 21, 2017