The Hottentot Venus Oct 31, 2010 20:24:39 GMT
Post by Deleted on Oct 31, 2010 20:24:39 GMT
I am bringing up the tragic life of Saartjie Baartman here, because today I saw the grueling film by Abdellatif Kechiche, who is already a two time winner of the French Academy Award for best film, and I will be most pleased if he wins a third time next February.
There is obviously a big Wikipedia article about her, but the film really brings her to life.
She was a member of the Khoikhoi tribe, and after a number of personal tragedies in South Africa, she accepted to go to Europe in 1810 as a freak show attraction. What made her a "freak" were her huge buttocks. While I think about all of us have now seen women of African origin with monumental hind quarters, in the early 19th century, it was a major novelty.
But khoi women often have another physical attribute that is rarely displayed.
She was displayed in London as a caged animal to strike fear into the crowds, with a whole routine of shrieking and lunging at the crowd. There was a certain amount of outrage and even a trial regarding whether she was being exploited or not.
Next, she went to Paris where she did her show in bourgeois salons. She also attracted the attention of the scientific community who made numerous nude paintings of her anatomy, but she always refused to show them the detail that they wanted to see.
Things went downhill from there, since she was also an alcoholic. The libertine salons were allowed to have full access to her -- they were shocked and exhilirated. But then she went to a whorehouse, and after major infections ended up on the street. She died in Paris of multiple diseases in 1815.
The scientific community was ready and waiting for the corpse. Saartjie's amazing genitals were removed and preserved. One of the frequent physical attributes of Khoi women are extremely developed labia, which hang like flaps from the vagina. They also saved her brain and made a plaster mold of her body as well as a few wax molds of her attributes.
This was all on display at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris until 1974. President Nelson Mandela made an official request for her remains to be returned to South Africa in 1994, and the French parliament finally authorized it in 2002.
I have to make a weak defense of the French delay, because there was no provision in French law to return any museum pieces to other countries. Just imagine the jurisprudence of returning so many items pillaged from the entire world if France were to release something easily.
As for the movie, it is not at all complacent. Saartjie Baartman was not a saint by any means, and she knew and controlled what she was doing most of the time. And it must be noted that the director Abdellatif Kechiche has a reputation of not taking shortcuts in his films. All of his difficult scenes go on and on and on to make you realize that you are the voyeur and not the people in the scene. Believe me, you will squirm more than once if you see this film.
In the closing credits of the movie, there are archive images of the French parliament voting to return the remains, and then there are the images of the return to South Africa of all of the elements of Saartjie Baartman -- genitalia, brain, moldings... She was buried as a national symbol.
I absolutely recommend seeing the film if you get a chance to do so. It is in Afrikaans, English and French.
The Cuban actress who plays the role is beyond sensational. If she does not win a César, I am an imbecile.