After sinking under the prestige of his two previous play adaptations (DEATH AND THE MAIDEN/’94; CARNAGE/’11), third time’s the charm for Roman Polanski. Working smoothly with playwright David Ives, this kinky two-hander acts out a sort of Strindberg-lite psychological striptease between modern playwright/stage director Mathieu Amalric (a ringer for Polanski) and tardy auditioning actress Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski’s real-life wife). Since the play-within-a-play is taken from one of those sexually ‘advanced’ S&M Viennese confessionals of the late 1800s, the possibilities for who’s-on-top revelations are endless, especially with each character slipping back & forth between their own personalities and the play script. (Filmed in French, the subtitles alternate fonts when they verbalize in character, clarifying situations, but losing some of Ives’ off-balance effects of personality alienation, at least for non-French speakers.) Polanski can hardly put a foot wrong, blending hints of erotic suspense with comic beats and managing to hold back any underlying disbelief in the general situation; then reveling in a final reverse that’s as logical as it is absurd.
DOUBLE-BILL: See Polanski direct himself thru a different kind of psychological torment in THE TENANT/’76, an underrated experiment lost between CHINATOWN/’74 and TESS/’79.