Classics month: Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs

“Before Fifty Shades of Grey there was Venus in Furs.” Or at least that is the claim of the reviewers of the many versions of this 1870s novel. This book has been made into a whole bunch of plays and movies (IMDb lists 10). And after that they created a play based on one of the movies based on a play. You could say that Venus is the Spiderman of BDSM fiction. So Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs is the perfect case to start off our Classics Month with.

The novel was written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Yes, the guy they named “masochism” after. It relates the experience of a young aristocrat, Severin, who wants his neighbor Wanda to use him as a slave. After he spends most of the book trying to convince her, she writes up a contract and they move to Florence in order to live the life he so desperately wants. However, the reality turns out to be somewhat different from his fantasies.

Screenshot from the 1994 film Venus in Furs
Severin/Gregor hands Wanda a whip.
Venus in Furs 1994.

Dutch Venus in black Furs

In 1994, an attempt was made at an art-house, black-and-white film adaptation of the novel. If you are a fan of long dramatic shots of traintracks, this is definitely the film for you. The film is Dutch with English subs (pun intended), but as there is hardly any dialogue this is not really bothersome. As a study of the aesthetics of BDSM, this film is at the top of its genre. And Femdom‘s fun!

Though this film allows for beautiful screenshots, the plot is somewhat flimsy and only based on the novel in the broadest sense. Severin does spend time convincing Wanda to do this; they do take a train so they can live in a different environment; and the contract they read in the final scene is a copy of the one in Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. However, in this film’s interpretation, Wanda only goes through with this because she is in love with Severin. And Severin himself has trouble staying in his submissive role and gives the audience a Masterclass in “topping from the bottom.”

Oh, and let’s not just skip over his very un-woke and slightly racist fantasy-scene. Anyway. This film is visually stunning and all stereotypical BDSM elements are in there (see picture below for the “bondage” scene). Just don’t watch it for political correctness, acting skills, dialogue or plot.

Still from the 1994 film Venus in Furs
Venus in Furs, 1994.

Fun spin on Sacher-Masoch’s classic

If, on the other hand you do care about all those elements, I suggest you watch Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur (2013). Not only does this movie have a plot, it gets complicated at times. Stage director Thomas has spent his day auditioning actresses to find Wanda for his new play based on Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. It is late now, and he is still in the theater getting ready to go home. Meanwhile, as you do, he is complaining to his girlfriend on the phone about the lack of talent in the auditions. Enter Vanda, a sassy actress with bad luck, who convinces him to let her audition.

Still from the 2013 film Venus in Fur
Venus in Fur 2013

As they go through the entire play, the lines between the different levels of acting become blurred. And so do the ones between play/audition and fantasy/reality. Without spoiling too much, I would definitely recommend watching this movie, and, if you happen to have the opportunity to see the play based on this movie based on the play based on the book (it’s a bit like venusception), with good actors, do so. It’s fun, thoughtful, and filled with action. The 1,5 hour dialogue between the two only actors offers not one moment of boredom and the plottwists are subtle and unpredictable. But before you do: read the book. Trust me on this.

Salute Aphrodite!

Still from the 2013 film Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur 2013

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