Black Venus

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So how does one follow up a movie like 2007's near-perfect culture-clash chronicle The Secret of the Grain? If you're director Abdellatif Kechiche, you craft a docudrama about Saartjie Baartman (the extraordinary Yahima Torres), the African woman paraded around Europe's freak-show circuit in the 1800s as the "Venus Hottentot." A pitchman barks, "Those of a sensitive nature, leave the theater now," and the warning goes double for filmgoers; you simply won't find a more brutal, unforgiving portrait of institutionalized racism this season. The movie's relentless pageantry of pain ultimately feels less like a humanist exploration of social ills than an endurance test—and that's long before Dardenne-brothers regular Olivier Gourmet rides Torres like a horse before horny aristocrats. Proceed with caution indeed.—David Fear

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