• Black Venus



    Released by: Arrow Academy
    Released on: May 22nd, 2018.
    Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
    Cast: Yahima Torres, Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn
    Year: 2010
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    The Movie:

    Black Venus (or Vénus noire if you prefer) tells the story of Sarah ‘Saartjes’ Baartman (played by Cuban actress Yahima Torres) and is set in 1808. At twenty-one years of age she’s taken from her home in South Africa, still under Dutch colonial rule, and taken to Europe to work for a man named Hendrick Caesar (Andre Jacobs). Hendrick hopes to make some money in London and to make a name for himself – and he figures out an interesting way to do this: by displaying Saarthes in a freak show where she is presented as ‘The Black Venus.’

    Hendrick becomes friendly with a bear-tamer named Réaux (Olivier Gourmet) and after Saartjes’ act comes under fire, he and she head for Paris where, again, she’s forced to expose herself to the gawking European public to someone else’s benefit. Réaux even ups the ante a bit when he’s in control of the act – once Baartman performs a demeaning ‘tribal dance’ meant to do nothing more than show off her large posterior, he allows attendees to touch her. Eventually, she becomes such a curio that she’s taken from the carnivals and into the more aristocratic locales of Parisian high society – but still, she remains a ‘freak’ to most who observe her. As her story progresses we learn how she eventually winds up put to work in a brothel, but not before an anatomist named Georges Cuvier (Francois Marthouret) studies her and declare her to be the missing link between man and ape…

    A very well-made picture that tells a genuinely tragic tale, Black Venus clearly deals with racism, the perils of forced immigration and so much more but in many ways is at its best when acting as a character study. This is due in no small part to the performance provided by leading lady Yahima Torres a woman whose figure would appear to mirror that of the real Baartman (this is, quite tragically, based on a true story) – she’s curvy. More than that, however, she’s an excellent actress. As she becomes increasingly and horrifyingly exploited, we feel for her not just because of her predicament, but because Torres crafts with her take on Baartman a genuinely likeable character. As her life becomes more and more difficult and she takes to drink to numb her pain, we feel for her and we understand why she does this.

    If the movie plays out like a racially charged version of The Elephant Man, that’s to Kechiche’s credit. The film also functions as an interesting look at societal norms we should all hope to have left behind at this point in history, and hour the bourgeoisie class so calmly exploit those ‘beneath’ them without so much as a second thought. At almost three hours long the film holds out attention with no trouble and it proves engaging throughout thanks not just to the acting but to the production values and cinematography as well. The picture is edited quite effectively, with the picture opening and closing with scenes that brings us into Cuvier’s operating theater, her corpse under his knife. This frames the story in an intelligent and thought provoking way, and it serves to get our attention right from the start and simultaneously end things on an equally poignant note.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Arrow’s 1.85.1 widescreen transfer of Black Venus, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, looks excellent. Detail and texture are strong from the start and color reproduction is spot on. We get reference quality black levels and very good depth to the image. Skin tones look nice and natural and the image is free of any obvious compression issues. The transfer is also perfectly clean, no artifacting or anything to complain about.

    Audio options are offered up in DTS-HD 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 options in French with optional English subtitles. No complaints here, the 5.1 mix has nice depth and frequent but sometimes subtle surround activity. You’ll mostly notice it in regards to the score placement but rear channels do provide some welcome ambient action during crowd scenes and what not. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note. Dialogue is clear and level are well-balanced.

    The primary extra on the disc is a thirty-three minute ‘appreciation of Black Venus and the cinema of Abdellatif Kechiche’ by critic Neil Young. This is a bit of a career overview that covers not just Black Venus but some of his other work, touching on what makes his filmmaking stand out, some of the politics and history that have clearly inspired his work and more. It’s an interesting piece that sheds some welcome light on Kechiche and his work.

    A theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection are also found on the disc. Finished product is said to include reversible cover art and an insert booklet but that material wasn’t sent for review.

    The Final Word:

    Black Venus is a long film, clocking in at almost three hours in length, but it’ll have no trouble holding your attention for the duration of its running time. It’s a compelling and expertly put together drama with strong production values and good performances. Arrow’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great and while it isn’t stacked with extras, Young’s piece rounds the package out nicely.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!