Archive for Emmanuelle Seigneur

Pardon Me But your Heels Are In My Back

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by dcairns


“Eroticism is when you use a feather; perversion is when you use the whole chicken.” Joke told by Roman Polanski to Peter Coyote when offering him BITTER MOON.

I think everyone kind of groans a bit whenever Polanski makes something “sexy.” I was kind of glad to more was heard of his plan to make an animated movie of Milo Manara’s porno comics. Is a sexy film from a convicted sex felon (whatever his level of actual guilt) really an attractive proposition? But I can’t deny the prurient interest, at the same time.

There was an interesting BBC documentary about Polish author Jerzy Kosinski. The author’s sadomasochistic lifestyle was mentioned, and one of the interviewees was Kosinksi’s friend, fellow jetsetting Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski, who casually remarked to his (female) interviewer, “That’s not what I’m into, so I can’t really comment on that. I can very easily tell you what I *am* into, if you like!” There was one of those pauses where time seems to  grind its brakes, and then she quickly moved on to another question. Can’t blame her — Polanski’s kinks would be too off-topic, and besides, he was obviously toying with her, as my cat toys with my hand before killing it. But one couldn’t help but swear a little, because it would be quite interesting to know what RP is into. You can’t take the legal evidence as any guide, other than that he likes ’em rather too young, because the testimony on that matter is fraught with implausibilities.

Polanski affects to dislike comparisons of his films to his private life, which I can understand (Mark Cousins had quite an argumentative interview with the Great Man where he kept harping on this troublesome point, with Polanski at one point resorting to a loud snoring noise as rebuttal), yet his films seem to tease us with deliberate self-portraits. The new one, LE VENUS A LA FOURRURE, has as hero a French theatre director with an Eastern European name, playing opposite Polanski’s own wife, Emmanuelle Seigneur, and it’s a disquisition on themes of sexual dominance.


Firstly: it’s beautifully shot (by Pawel Edelman, RP’s DoP since THE PIANIST), with the theatre setting affording a more free and spacious feeling than previous chamber piece CARNAGE — it never feels remotely stifling. The dance of camera and actors is unobtrusively elegant. Nice bit where the actors mime the serving of coffee and the soundtrack obliges with faint clinks of spoon on cup, which put me in mind of Adrian Brody’s phantom piano, but also of Polanski’s previous mime experience, playing in Steven Berkoff’s play of Metamorphosis, which requires the star to impersonate a cockroach without the aid of makeup (no great stretch, RP’s haters would argue). And I really liked Alexandre Desplat’s score — filmed plays, like regular plays, seem to require special care in the use of music (I don’t think any of Altman’s theatrical adaptations got this right, though I love some of them).

The piece opens with a glide down a Parisian avenue, veering off to enter a theatre — all those CGI-assisted doors creaking open for our invisible presence recall THE NINTH GATE, Mr & Mrs Polanski’s last collaboration, but this may also be the POV of a goddess coming down to earth like Ava Gardner.

Mathieu Amalric and ES are great together, giving their dialogue a screwball ratatatat — the plot even borrows a popular comedy trope, providing Amalric with an offscreen fiancée who may be usurped by this mysterious newcomer. Seigneur as a fetish-friendly version of Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY, here to shake things up? Polanski has, it may be admitted, allowed himself theatrical license in his casting: plays often cast actors obviously too old (or too fat, if it’s opera) for their roles, but movies are supposed to be “realistic.” Various lines make it clear that Amalric’s character is meant to be older than Seigneur’s, but the actors are close contemporaries. Ideal casting might have been the Polanskis as a couple twenty years ago, but I don’t see why it should matter too much. Hoist that disbelief on your shoulders and trudge on: Seigneur is certainly quite capable of embodying the icy bitch-goddess of legend, and if the bratty actress aspect of the role stretches plausibility, she’s still fun to watch.


The most intriguing echo of Polanski’s past work comes when the character trade roles, with Seigneur applying lipstick to Amalric just as Francoise Dorleac does to Donald Pleasence in CUL-DE-SAC, echoing also Polanski’s distressing cross-dressing in THE TENANT. This recurring image could suggest new avenues of intrusive film criticism, which would at least make a change from interpreting each Polanski film as a response to his second wife’s death or as evidence for his interest in little girls. Polanski tends to hide behind his source material, claiming for instance that he chose MACBETH because he thought the violence would be attributed to the famously bloody play, not to him (he couldn’t have anticipated the crazy, awful review that compared him to Charles Manson for having made a movie). The battle of the sexes informs a lot of Polanski movies, notably BITTER MOON, and abused and often raped underdog women have featured a lot (REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY, CHINATOWN, TESS), nearly always as sympathetic characters whose POV the director takes. If one knew nothing of Polanski himself one might easily take these as feminist texts, yet he seems to be an unreconstructed male supremacist.

Mr. Polanski, what  are you into?

Elvis Lives

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by dcairns

Finally caught up with THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, in which the editor of French Elle suffers a massive neurological kerfuffle which paralyses everything but one eyelid, transforming him into a sentient version of Errol Morris’ Interrotron, the camera everybody talks to.

The late great Jean-Pierre Cassel.

It’s a fine film, directed by Julian Schnabel with some interesting touches. The idea of the hero as P.O.V. is a sound one, probably the only way to make this particular story visible. There’s not much point cutting to reaction shots very often since the hero is unable to react with anything but one eye. (They sew up his bad eye to stop it going off. Ew.)

This is what you see when you get your eye sewn up. You can thank me later.

But as Hitchcock observed, endless subjective camera without reaction shots doesn’t really make us feel we’re the character in the story, it’s more alienating than that. We feel like voyeurs inside his head. Which is kind of what he’s been reduced to, so it all makes sense.

Schnabel is guilty of that modern movie crime, borrowing music from another movie, in this case the theme from LES QUATRES CENT COUPS, which he accompanies with SHOTS borrowed from the same film. But as Georges Delerue’s title theme reaches its melancholy conclusion, over a flashback of the hero, in pre-camera mode, driving to meet his kids, it all works in an oneirically beautiful way, capturing that quality Borges was pleased to be the first person to write about in a poem: the sensation of doing something for the last time.

Mrs. Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigneur appears as the camera’s wife. A fine actress, whose brave and multi-faceted perf in BITTER MOON didn’t really get the credit it deserved (watch B.M. as a very black comedy and it’s a much better film than might at first appear). And who’s this as the hero in childhood flashback?

Walk like an Egyptian.

Yes, it’s little Elvis Polanski, Emmanuelle’s son. Little Elvis first popped up as a walk-on Fauntleroy in OLIVER TWIST. I do hope he continues with his acting career, since I get a kick out of his name. Child abuse can take many forms. I do hope Roman at least plied the infant with champagne and Quaaludes before naming him that. It’s the least he could do.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly [DVD] [2007]

Oliver Twist [DVD]