A doctor introduces the audience to what is about to unfold before our eyes on the screen. It is a lecture about an unusual woman who puzzled the scientists of the early XIX century. The subject of the study was a South African native, Saartjie Baartman, a woman of humble origins, working as a domestic help in the home of Hendrick Caezar, an opportunist, who realizes the potential in exploiting Saartjie to unsuspecting European audiences whose appetite for that type of freak shows proved to be a source of making money at the expense of the unfortunate woman.
Another member of that circuit, the bear tamer Reaux, realizes the gold mine his friend has. Reaux manages to get Saartjie for his own exploitation. He devises a scheme where he pushes Saartjie into exhibiting her as a freak show for the corrupt higher classes of France, of that time. The bored high society saw in Saartjie an opportunity to satisfy their own perversity and abnormal sex desires, heightened by the presence of the exotic woman who is made to be the object of their fantasies. Ultimately, Saartjie resorts to prostitution, dying in miserable conditions. The ultimate desecration of this woman occurred as Reaux finally sells her body to the medical investigators Saartjie did not want to have them examine her most intimate parts.
"Black Venus", conceived and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the recent winner of best picture at Cannes 2013. The film is a documentary about the tragic life of a woman that attracted attention from people that exploited the physical attributes which she, a rarity for an ignorant public came to see as an aberration, as well as a sexual fantasy. M. Kechiche co-wrote the screenplay with Ghalia Lacroix. It is based on the real story of the South African woman, who finally was recognized as a victim of those who used her for their own benefit, getting rich by selling her as the wild animal she was not.
The acting is one of the best things going for the film. Unfortunately, the central figure of Saartjie, as played by Yahima Torres, who appears to be a non professional actress, shows only a limited range of emotions, keeping her one expression, with the exception of her real tears, throughout the film. It probably is unfair to Ms. Torres, but she was in the company of more experienced professionals like the excellent Olivier Gourmet, who as Reaux, is the best thing in the picture. Theactor keeps surprising with every new appearance. Andre Jacobs as Fredrick Caezar manages to convey his hideous nature as the exploiter of the unfortunate woman. Elina Lowensohn makes an impression as Jeanne, the only kind soul Saartjie met in her life.
Director Kechiche shows incredible talent and it is apparent he will be a force to be reckoned with in his future endeavors. The cinematographer, Ludomir Bakchev captures the mood of the period in which the action takes place.
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