Theater lovers rejoice! And run to see this film. It is a fantastique adaptation of a play about a playwright/director and the mysterious woman who just may be the perfect actress to play his leading lady. It is in French, so I know that leaves out a lot of viewers, but try and get past that, because this is one fun ride.
The entire film takes place in real time in a somewhat rundown theater in Paris. As it begins the director/writer Thomas has given up hope of ever finding a woman who can play the lead in his play, an adaptation of an 1870 novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from which the term “masochism” springs, in which an aristocratic man begs a woman to allow him to be her slave. And just as Thomas is packing up to go home and is all alone in the theater, in rushes a drenched actress named Vanda, which just happens to be the name of the woman in the play. He is hesitant to give her his time, both because he is tired and because she seems on first glance to be totally wrong for the part. She’s dressed like a hooker and seems very unprofessional, but she talks him into reading just 3 pages with her and before you know it, she has Thomas enthralled — first as a director and then as a man.
What is really exceptional about this script (and probably the Tony Award winning play from which it was adapted) is the way that the play and the real dialogue come closer and closer to being indistinguishable. The subtitles change from regular to italics to let you know, though I would have preferred that it was left to the viewer to note the distinctions. And the fact that the man who plays Thomas is a dead ringer for the film’s director Roman Polanski a few decades ago gives a lot of the dialogue about sexism and the subjugation of women a whole other level of meaning. Unlike many other adaptations of theater pieces I’ve seen, this one ironically doesn’t feel stagey. It is a very smart, frequently funny, somewhat perverse, and totally entertaining film. I have not been a big fan of Polanski’s last few flicks (Carnage, The Ghost), but this one can stand up there with his best (Chinatown, The Tenant). Subtitles aside, this is a great film. Go see it!