Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Mr. Whippy
A UK region 0 DVD review of VENUS IN FURS / LE MALIZE DI VENERE by Gort
 
"If you love me, then be cruel towards me."
"If I love you," repeated Wanda. "Very well!" She stepped back
and looked at me with a sombre smile. "Be then my slave, and
know what it means to be delivered into the hands of a woman."
And at that same moment she gave me a kick.
"How do you like that, slave?"
Then she flourished the whip.
Venus in Furs – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
 
Severin, Severin, speak so slightly
Severin, down on your bended knee
Taste the whip, in love not given lightly
Taste the whip, now plead with me.
Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground

 

You may not know the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, but you'll probably be familiar with the noun that his writings inspired. No? Have a closer look at that last name, then re-read the above extract from his most famous novel, and try again. You got it. Just as the Marquis De Sade gave us sadism, our Leopold was the man who gave birth to masochism. Well, the word, at least. It is, after all, unlikely that he invented the concept of sexual pleasure through suffering any more than De Sade was the first to get his rocks off inflicting pain on others.

Leopold's above-quoted story has been the source for a small number films over the years. The version here was a product of swinging Italian cinema of the 1960s, when sex on film was OK, but nudity was usually restricted to the top halves of women and just about anyone's buttocks, as long as they weren't planted too clearly between the thighs of another. But then Venus in Furs is not about titillation. Sorry, let me rephrase that, it's not just about titillation, as despite updating and relocating the story, Massimo Dallamano's film is surprisingly faithful to its source. Whether that makes it a good movie is another matter.

Central to the story is Severin, who as played by Régis Vallée looks a lot like one of those models from old clothing catalogues – I kept waiting for him to stop and point off at something in the distance and hope you notice his jacket. Severin certainly looks a bit of a ladies' man, but when he spies the beautiful Wanda writhing naked on the floor in a fur coat (he's peering through a hole in the wall that separates their holiday cabins, in case you wondered), he decides that she's the girl for him. "A woman in furs is somehow more exciting and erotic," he writes for us, recalling the time from his childhood when he was caught spying on the chauffeur and the chambermaid as they went at it. It is, he continues, "a pleasure that can be so great it is painful. This is ecstasy." So great he doesn't bother with it again that much. That's because he soon has something else in mind.

His chat-up line is a stunner – "I'd like to go to bed with you," he tells Wanda, prompting her thoughts voice-over to reveal that she's always wanted to meet a romantic man. Say what? Severin's thoughts are more revealing. "In love there are only masters and slaves," he muses, "those who dominate and those who are dominated." Now you're talking. The two eventually get down to it, and as Wanda demonstrates an old striptease number of hers, she accidentally whips Severin's face. Boy does he like that. Pretty soon he's taking regular beatings and asking her to make him suffer. "I want no limits to your cruelty," he tells her.

Now if this has you rubbing your hands in gleeful anticipation then know this: while there is a certain amount of whipping, the later cruelty consists largely of psychological humiliation, with Severin playing the role of Wanda's chauffeur to be ordered around and shouted at while she flirts through ways of making him furiously jealous. This peaks when she picks up moustached biker Bruno for a back-seat shag and decides to hang on to him, fed up with Severin's games and apparently thrilled to have a real man about the house.

The problem, or at least my problem, is that Severin is not developed enough as a character for me to care that much about him or his self-inflicted suffering, something not helped by an English dub that delivers almost every line in a thoughtful version of a 'does it turn you on when I talk like this?' whisper. Making matters worse is the sort of music score that gives the sixties a bad name, one so annoying and intrusive that I found myself humming it afterwards and then slapping myself for doing so. A slap I rather enjoyed, of course.

But as things progressed I found myself pulled in to the film, particularly following the arrival of Bruno, a duller and more cartoonishly performed character than Severin, who I'd got to know a bit by then and whose company I began preferring to that of this loutish oaf. The filmmaking also starts to make its mark here, with some snappy editing and neat scope camerawork in the pursuit of Bruno's bike, a bizarre Ku Klux Klan whipping fantasy, and an extraordinary scene in which Bruno turns the entire household into sex slaves, including the two lesbian maids hired by the couple in their early days (did I not mention them?), the whole sequence shot from Severin's POV through a wire mask the cackling Bruno has strapped to his face.

On the whole Venus in Furs is a very serviceable if only mildly erotic adaptation of a novel whose time may have gone, at least for a straight-up film adaptation, but which could still serve as a starting point for what should, in the right hands, be a seat-grindingly effective study of the so-called darker sides of sexual pleasure. But it does pick up in the second half, has its share of tastefully naughty scenes and energetic beatings, and even boasts a more explicit sequence of horse copulation for those of you so inclined – Severin and Wanda certainly seem to get off on it. It also scores huge points with me [spoiler ahead, skip to the tech specs if you want to stay in the dark] for dumping the original Sacher-Masoch moralistic ending – in which Severin is 'cured' of his addiction to suffering and left with the view that women can only function as a slave or despot to man – to instead grant him a life of orgasmic joy at the end of an enthusiastically wielded whip.

sound and vision

A pretty damned good transfer – the colour and contrast are fine, the black levels on the nose and the sharpness, while not exactly reference quality, will certainly draw no serious complaints. It's a sparklingly clean print too, with hardly a dust spot or scratch in sight. The framing is 2.40:1 and the picture is anamorpically enhanced.

The soundtrack is mono 2.0 clear and displays only a faint background hiss and no other damage or obvious distortion. Someone has taken very good care of this print.

extra features

Trailer (3:18)
A fun trailer for 'the most daring motion picture the screen has ever shown' and narrated by what sounds more like a psychiatrist than the usual movie trailer voice-over type.

There are also the usual trailers for other Shameless releases.

summary

Not as daring or emotionally punishing as it really needs to be, Venus in Furs is nevertheless of interest, particularly if you know the original Sacher-Masoch source novel. Shameless have done really well with the transfer, though, so if you like the film you'll have few complaints with the DVD, unless you're looking for extras, of course.

Venus in Furs
Le Malize di venere

Italy / West Germany / Sweden 1969
82 mins
director
Massimo Dallamano
starring
Laura Antonelli
Régis Vallée
Ewing Loren
Renaté Kasché
Werner Pochath

DVD details
region 0
video
2.40:1 anamoprhic
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Trailers
distributor
Shameless
release date
31 December 2007
review posted
4 January 2008

See all of Gort's reviews