Blu-ray Review: Black Venus

Before the Elephant Man, London had Hottentot Venus working the low budget exhibition spaces. Who was she? Saartjie Baartman was a woman from South Africa noted for her large rear. “Hottentot” was the name given to members of the Khoikhoi tribe. “Hottentot” is now considered a slur so don’t try to work it into conversation. Black Venus is a French film from 2010 that tells her story of how a she went a farm girl to the various exhibition halls of Europe to a medical school.

Baartman (Yahima Torres) thought she was coming to Europe to sing and dance for audiences. But very quickly the performance was changed. She went from showing her talent to making her completely an savage in a cage. Her old boss Caezar (Andre Jacobs) is less of a manager and more of the adventurer who has tamed her barely enough so that she can be let out of her cage and not attack the audience. At the end of the show, the crowd is given a chance to come up and touch her large rear to prove that the rump is not a fake. It’s a hit on the dirty strip of freak shows. Caezar is excited since he swears their savage and master routine will be quickly booked into larger houses. But Baartman is getting sick of it. She doesn’t like the strangers touching and molesting her. She is tired of being seen as this beast by a bunch of uncivilized low class folks. She wants to play and prove that the natives of Africa are more than what gets displayed in the show. She almost has a chance to get out of this fix when Caezar gets dragged into court on charges of enslaving her. But she claims they had a 50/50 deal and she enjoys the performing. After all the troubles, they travel to France with a few folks from the underbelly to see if they can have better luck without the law coming down on them. Even with a more sophisticated audience, things don’t completely improve for Baartman.

Yahima Torres gives an astounding performance as Baartman. She has a minimal amount of lines, but her emotions play hard with what her character is going through. Her tears show the loneliness of life in Europe so far from home. She displays the weight on her shoulders with having to be such a horrible character on stage for a public that wants a savages showing around. She is a person who wants to perform and not just be on display. The performances for both the unruly crowd and the cultured audience at a French estate are allowed to unfold as she dances around in a sheer bodysuit. The film digs into the exploitation life of a woman who has more to offer than just curiosity over her large rear end. She’s the opposite of Kim Kardashian. Black Venus gets deep into the sad tale of what happened to Saartje Baartman.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the performance in Torres’ face. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue is a mix of English, French and Afrikaans. The levels get into the sounds of the various exhibition spaces.

Neil Young on Abdellatif Kechiche (33:16) covers the films of the director including Blue As the Warmest Color. The critic talks of the six films that have made Kechiche a major director in France. This isn’t that Neil Young.

Theatrical Trailer (1:25) gives the freak show element.

Arrow Academy presents Black Venus. Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche. Screenplay by: Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalya Laroix. Starring: Yahima Torres, Olivier Gourmet, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Jonathan Pienaar and Andre Jacobs. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 165 minutes. Released: May 22, 2018.

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