Spanish actor Jose Antonio Ceinos stars as a down-and-out sculptor, whose inspiration returns with the strange appearance of a beautiful, mysterious black muse.
User Reviews: This film is supposedly based upon a story by Balzac, and although the action is shifted to the second half of the nineteenth century, two or three decades after the great writer’s death in 1850, it certainly has the look of a period drama, with plenty of Victorian costumes and furniture and even a hansom cab on view.
"Black Venus" is not, however, a standard piece of highbrow heritage cinema. Merchant-Ivory it ain’t. The main character, Venus, is a beautiful young mulatto girl from Martinique who arrives in Paris, where she becomes a fashion model and the lover of a struggling young artist, Armand. (Struggling young artists, occasionally alternating with struggling young poets, are of course a stock character in any drama set in nineteenth-century Paris). After separating from Armand, Venus has a lesbian affair with Marie, a rich society lady, becomes a prostitute in a high-class brothel and ends up living in a ménage-a-trois with another girl and an elderly but wealthy libertine.
That synopsis might sound like the plot of an "Emmanuelle" film translated to the Victorian era, and the film has indeed sometimes been referred to as soft-core porn, but that is perhaps not an appropriate description either. Although the film deals with matters sexual and the heroine appears nude on several occasions, there is in fact only one sex scene (which turns out to have been a dream), and this is done in a very restrained manner, less explicit than the love scenes in some mainstream Hollywood movies from this era. The script never states explicitly, in fact, that Venus and Marie actually are lovers; they are never shown in bed together, although it is certainly implied that they are more than just good friends. At times the film-makers seem to have been aiming at a piece of period erotica, but at others they seem to have believed themselves to be making a serious drama, especially when the film ends on a tragic note.
What prevents the film from being taken seriously, apart from Venus’s tendency to remove her clothes on the least provocation, is the standard of acting on display. The heroine is played by one Josephine Jacqueline Jones, a former Miss Bahamas. With an exquisite beauty reminiscent of a young Halle Berry, Josephine certainly had the looks of a Hollywood goddess, but in the acting business beauty and talent do not always run together, and this is one case where they ran very far apart indeed. In a vitriolic review of one of Katharine Hepburn’s performances, Dorothy Parker wrote that "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B", and I have similar feelings about Miss Jones’s attempts at acting. Except that in her case she never seems to get as far as B, and occasionally even seems to be struggling with A. Her main (indeed, her virtually only) technique for expressing emotion is to flash a coyly suggestive smile at any man, or occasionally woman, in her immediate vicinity.
To be fair to Miss Jones, few if any of the other actors in the film display any more acting ability than she does, the actor playing Armand being particularly wooden. The supposedly tragic ending was ruined by the combined ineptitude of all those involved; to adapt Oscar Wilde’s dictum on the death of Little Nell, as described by Dickens in "The Old Curiosity Shop", you would need a heart of stone to watch it without laughing. "Black Venus", which dates from 1983, is one of those films which it would have been kinder to forget. The fact that it is still turning up on television thirty years after it was made shows just how desperate some channels must be for material to fill their schedules. 3/10