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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BLACK VENUS

By D.E.Levine

2010 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Writer: Abdellatif Kechiche, Gayla Laroix
Cast: Yahima Torres, Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Marthouret, Michel Gionti, Jean- Christophe Bouvet, Jonathan Pienaar, Remi Martin, Jean-Jacques Moreau et al.
Running Time: 166 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: English, French
Genre: Drama, History

This may not be a great film but it is certainly an interesting and touching one.

The film opens in early 19th century London where a scientist is presenting a lecture at the Museum of Natural History Museum on the Hottentot, a bulky African female who is known for her large posterior and distended labia.

In a Piccadilly sideshow the African slave Sarah Baartman has been dressed in a nude colored body stocking and is paraded onstage as the Hottentot Venus, a sexualized savage from the jungle who has traveled to London and is now appearing on stage.

Released from her cage, Sarah sings and dances and is at the mercy of her "overseer" in front of an enthusiastic London audience.

Is she being exploited? Or is she reaping the benefits of being a star attraction?

She is a star attraction and offstage, dresses like a lady, goes out on the town where she eats, drinks and smokes with gusto, and is accompanied by a couple of young men to do her bidding.

Are they really there to help her or are they keeping track of her for her overseers? Is she really a free woman as she claims in court, or an exploited slave?

It's painful to watch Sarah but watching also raises questions about the spread of slavery in Europe. Although we see Sarah as an "entertainer" we know and learn little about her early years and her upbringing.

How much of the story about slavery and exploitation is true? Was it all a hype to bring in customers or was Sarah really badly abused?

While the film raises more questions and speculation, it answers very few. Overall, the material and performances are fascinating but raise more questions than they answer.