B&W, 1994, 65m.
Directed by Maartje Seyferth & Victor Nieuwenhuijs
Starring Anne Van Der Ven, André Arend van Noord
Cult Epics, DVD Video International (US R1 NTSC)

One of the pioneering works of erotic fiction, Venus in Furs became a familiar title in popular culture after the Velvet Underground immortalized it with a tribute song on their classic Velvet Underground and Nico album, which in turn spawned a number of late '60s European films. The best among these was Jess Franco's 1969 adaptation, which retained the female protagonist's name and the S&M theme, but little else. Incidentally, the original memoir by Leopold von Sacher Masoch spawned the original term "masochism," and his real life wife eventually retaliated with an alternate erotic memoir of her own.

It certainly took long enough, but a couple of Dutch filmmakers decided to actually make a film called Venus in Furs that faithfully follows the events of the book. Shot in a slow, static, visually arresting style (in gorgeous black and white, no less), the film begins with the dejected Severin (Andre Arend Van Noord) resting in an empty town square reflecting on his relationship with Wanda (Anne Van Der Ven), who asked him to sign a contract vowing his status as her lover. Severin's day to day existence working on a train allows him to freely fantasize about his lover, who in some ways reminds him of his domineering fur coated aunt, who forced him to act as her servant when he was twelve. Naturally Severin got a sexual kick out of this relationship and willingly undergoes the same treatment from Wanda, with whom he descends into increasingly dangerous mind games.

Considering all it has going for it -- a solid literary source, a nifty visual style, heaps of sex, and a lush soundtrack peppered with Mahler, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky -- it's difficult to pinpoint exactly this film feels so restrained and subdued. Part of it may be the two leads, who look more like wasted junkies than world weary European connoisseurs of sexual experimentation. The bizarre English dubbing over the original dialogue (presumably Dutch) doesn't help, though thankfully verbal exchanges are kept to a minimum. (For those interested in the plot, however, the DVD offers subtitles in English, Dutch, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and French!) Many scenes feel like nods to other arty films, ranging from Peter Greenaway's The Belly of an Architect (note the opening scene and Severin's office wall papered with sketches) and Just Jaeckin's Story of O, which clearly inspired the finale. As an experiment, this is perhaps worth watching for some individual powerful images (such as a recurring low angle tracking shot of Wanda's high heeled shoes ascending a flight of stairs). The full frame image quality and the fairly well separated stereo sound are both fine, without any noticeable compression problems.