'Black Venus: Special Edition'
(Yahima Torres, Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, et al / Blu ray / NR / (2010) 2018 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: Saartjie Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was taken from South African home as a 21-year-old and shipped to Georgian London, where she would be caged and exhibited as a freak show.
Presented semi-nude, her physique especially her large buttocks was the source of much curiosity. But as her fame spread, so too did her exploitation.
Blu ray Verdict: 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.
For the record, 'Black Venus', conceived and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, was a 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.
Indeed, 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.
For my money, 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 effectively also.
A bleak, but barbed exploration of sex, science, race, colonialism and social attitudes, 'Black Venus' won't be for everyone, but at least now, with all these lush special features listed below, maybe today's viewers can get to know more compassionate information about Saartjie Baartman; and what she went through - and, importantly, why. This is a brand new High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
Optional English subtitles
Brand-new appreciation of Black Venus and the cinema of Abdellatif Kechiche by critic Neil Young
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Will Higbee, author of Post-Beur Cinema: North African Émigré and Maghrebi-French Filmmaking in France Since 2000