Black Venus (Venus Noire) Reviews
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She lets her life turn into a pathetic spectacle be it on stage or in the real life, like in that scene in the London court room where she is paraded in from of yet another audience. All along she is not more active than an old rag carried by the wind. But the film is not racist, it is simply misanthropic, it's not that the director despises the black character particularly, he apparently hates everybody equally.
Yet the character is obviously a rather gifted person full of energy and curiosity. She's objectively admirable even. She can speak at least four languages, she volunteered for a trip that would take her on the far side of the world, she obviously must have had plans, things she wanted to do after her business venture. But no, for some reason, she's deprived of that personality. This form of complete alienation coupled with the utter vulgarity of the rest world makes for a gloomy philosophy barely worth of an adolescent going through a passive agressive teenage crisis. Around her the world is crumbling (the scenes in Paris are shot the very same month as the battle of Waterloo which brought about the collapse of Napoleon's empire), but she and the director are really not interested.
I could see no love in the camera's eye, which is particularly sad considering that the cast in general was excellent. Andre Jacobs in particular is magnificent. To his credit, I have to say that the director is able to make the audience share completely his general hatred for the world around him. After almost three hours of being hammered with soft-core sadistic porn on repeat and seeing close ups of ugly faces and unappealing naked bodies, I too hate the whole of human kind, Afrikaans, French, Hottentot, English, all of that slimy, stinky, sweaty lot! At the end of the film, I felt nauseous even though I couldn't say if the cause was the constantly moving shoulder-held camera or the disgust inspired by Kechiche's cold outlook on life.
Beside its heavy content and shocking scenes that for sure will polarize the audience, the film is also served with an outstanding cast. The main actress Yahima Torres is very convincing in a very difficult role. But all actors (Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet) display skills in their respective interpretation, skills that trigger emotions, we hate, we curse, we're ashamed, we're shocked and we're upset during 2h40 of cinematic maelstrom.
However, not new - the harsh treatment of non-whites by Europeans in the 19th century is well known, and the portrayal of the abuse of an unorthodox human being has been done before (The Elephant Man would be the best example).
In addition, the director labours his point to the limit - the movie could easily have been one hour shorter and had the same impact. Ultimately, fairly tedious.
This Venus has a real name and that's Saartjie Baartma. She's not a slave, not in the technical meaning of the word. She is hired. She performs in les salons de Paris too. She also performs in front of the French scientists, who wants to find out about her genitals. In the end Saartjie performs on brothels ending up like a street prostitute. That's not her last performance. It takes place after her death when a professor holds a lecture about her "hottentott" body.
As you understand these 160 minutes aren't easy watching. Humiliation based on racism, it is. But what this film wants to say is not just that Saartjie's employers and the audiences are a bunch of disgusting scumbags. That was the cruel and disgusting times. The film says that Saartjie's tormenters are EXPLOITING racism. And the audiences have their racism exploited. There is money to be made on that too, if anybody had any doubts.