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Arthouse Audit: Polanski's Provocative 'Venus in Fur' Tops Tepid Specialized Openings

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood June 22, 2014 at 12:42PM

Films from two established directors (Paul Haggis and Roman Polanski) offered well-hyped new releases this weekend. Polanski's "Venus In Fur" (IFC) (also available on Video on Demand) was the clear leader. Paul Haggis' "Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) fared less well, doomed by high profile negative reviews.
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'Venus in Fur'
'Venus in Fur'

Films from two established directors (Paul Haggis and Roman Polanski) offered well-hyped new releases this weekend. Polanski's "Venus In Fur" (IFC), also available on Video on Demand, was the clear leader. Paul Haggis' "Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) fared less well, doomed by high profile negative reviews. 


And things are not looking good among expanding films, without any strong new film in recent weeks. A24's bleak road movie "The Rover" continues to disappoint as it did in its initial runs. The same company's "Obvious Child" is finding some traction, while Music Box' Polish period sleeper "Ida" continues to surprise, now at over $2 million.


Opening

"Venus in Fur" (IFC/Sundance Classics) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 68; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Tribeca 2014, City of Lights City of Angels 2014; also available on Video on Demand


$26,200 in theaters; PSA; $13,100

"Venus in Fur"'s U.S. release (and VOD premiere) comes 40 years to the day after the opening of Roman Polanski's last American film "Chinatown," and more than a year after the "Venus in Fur" Cannes competition premiere. This prime entry in the director's oeuvre never looked like a significant arthouse release. Though the title suggests a scandalous adult drama, it is an intellectually stimulating and personal cinematic creation involving Mathieu Almaric (a dead ringer for Polanski) auditioning actresses for the lead role in a play; Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigneur plays an unlikely candidate. A two-hander set almost entirely within a Paris theater, it is even more of a chamber piece than his modest grossing all-star "Carnage," which opened to $80,000 in 5 theaters in 2011. With the VOD alternative, this was never likely to be a big theatrical grosser (though it does have two prime Manhattan theaters). But the gross is still disappointing.


What comes next: Along with VOD, this will be seen in at least the top 15 markets over the next few weeks.


"Third Person" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 33; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Tribeca 2014

$42,046 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,419

Neither of Paul Haggis' previous direction/writing efforts since "Crash" came close to equaling that breakout effort, but both "In the Valley of Elah" and "The Next Three Days" at least gained some traction. This European-filmed trio of interrelated romantic stories landed a prime group of New York/Los Angeles theaters, and above average marketing outlays from the usually economical (but always precisely targeted) Sony Picture Classics. But all this seems to have been doomed by a series of opening day reviews from top critics that ranged from tepid to scathing. (A handful of other high profile critics did tout the film.) This yielded the low end of what these venues usually gross for a new film.


What makes the failure more acute is that this came closer to the formula that made "Crash" work, with a thematically-related story and ensemble cast (here including among others Liam Neeson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger, Adrien Brody and Olivia Wilde), with the sort of high-end relationships in European capitals feel that, in single city settings, has worked so well for Woody Allen (most of them handled by SPC). Strong elements notwithstanding, the end result was a disappointing gross.

What comes next: This is set to roll out to other top cities over the next two weeks, and per usual SPC patterns, blanket most possible markets before it is done, meaning the gross, even at a lower than hoped level, will be maximized. And there always remains the chance that audiences might end up reacting better than critics.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Arthouse Audit, Obvious Child, Coherence, Roman Polanski, Paul Haggis, Third Person


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.