This film may not be one for the boys, but it is a film for anyone who is into theatre or film, and who goes to either to be entertained. You will hardly ever be as well entertained as you are here. It is also a vindication of aging. The great director Roman Polanski is over eighty and the lead, Emmanuelle Seigner, who is his wife, is nearly fifty – and she is about to reach her prime – in any way you care to nominate. She is well supported by the only other actor, Mathieu Amalric, who does not look entirely unlike Polanski at that age.
The film follows a Broadway play a few years back. There is only one set, a theatre set for auditions. Thomas has written a play based on a nineteenth century novel about sado-masochism. He cannot find anyone from the modern stage to play an Ibsen-like siren-part. Then on a stormy night, Vanda arrives, unannounced, with a bag of tricks, as rough as guts, and larger than life, and ready to challenge all preconceptions about acting, sexiness, and politesse – and you know immediately that Thomas’s life may never be the same, the poor bastard. Vanda bludgeons Thomas into allowing her to start to an audition with him standing in for the male lead. The moment that she converts to the role might take your breath away. She knows the part by heart and Thomas gets sucked in to the point of obsession, and to where she has very much ceased to be the supplicant. Because they go in and out of character until you lose track, the capacity for irony is endless. The night might also be fateful for the fiancé of Thomas – a fiancé: how quaint! – who keeps ringing him to see what is keeping him. His phone rings to the Ride of the Valkyries, and our Thomas was not made to ride in that company. (Who is?) It is then that some of the boys in the audience might start to wonder how this all might end well for Thomas, and look around in case there are some Amazons on the prowl with a spare pair of garlic crushers.
The performance of Seigner is breathtaking. She does not command the camera – the camera salutes her. Her dominance – again in any way you like – is complete, although Mathieu Amalric is also flawless. Her presence and her mannerisms reminded me a lot of Gerard Depardieu and I say that in the warmest possible way. The play keeps trashing boundaries. It is a stunning night at the theatre – in the cinema – where we are privileged to be with great stars at the height of their powers. It is just that some of the boys might need a shot of something as a steadier on the way home.
For that matter, there may be something in it for the Sisters. I am not talking about sado-masochism, which I find at best unhappily tasteless and wasteful, like an angry drunk, but about the fact that this show revels in the celebration that women can be feminine in so many ways. Sex may not make the world go round, but it does see that the world stays peopled which is, as another play reminds us, an imperative.