Roman Polanski’s second film in as many years is once again a stage adaptation and, once again, disinclined to conceal the fact. If anything, it revels in its staginess even more than Carnage, doing very little to adapt David Ives’ Venus in Fur beyond removing any semblance of an interval or break in the action, making for one of those rare adaptations where the film ends up obeying the classical unities of time and place even more than the play. Set in its entirety in a dilapidated Parisian theatre over a single stormy night, it’s about the burgeoning relationship between Thomas Novacheck (Mathieu Almaric), the author of a theatrical adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, and Vanda Jourdain (Emmanuelle Seigner), the mysterious actress who turns up to audition for the main part. At first she seems completely ill-suited, but as the night progresses it becomes clear that she’s perhaps more attuned to Wanda von Dunayev than Thomas previously thought, as their joint rehearsals take them in and out of his script, and in and out of their fantasies. One of the great strengths of Polanski’s adaptation is how seamlessly this movement occurs – it’s often quite unclear whether or not they’re reading from the script – and that’s partly due to the rigorous theatricality of his vision, which occasionally recalls Sidney Lumet’s earliest films in the conviction with which it regards cinema as a new kind of theatre, or an extension of theatre, rather than a replacement or alternative to it. For another director, that brand of late work might suggest a kind of exhaustion, a diminution or attentuation of cinematic ambition. However, as Carnage made clear, the constrictions of the theatre might be the best way for Polanski to express his enduring rages in old age, as well as the best way to come to terms with the excommunication that has returned to haunt his recent films, especially those produced in the wake of his 2009 arrest at the Swiss border. And Venus in Fur constricts you with the peculiar theatricality of masochism in ways that a more cinematic (or graphic) depiction could never manage, until the whole film feels like a fetishistic accoutrement or point of access to Seigner, who also happens to be Polanski’s wife. Like the most seductive masochistic contracts, it stifles you with promises of escape that become ever more elusive and elastic as it proceeds – you can’t ever quite believe that cinema could be this theatrical, this ceremonial, until that incredulity simply is the film and everything it arouses, ensaring and disciplining you in your own unbelief.