Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Writer: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Cast: Yahima Torres, Olivier Gourmet, Andre Jacobs, Elina Löwensohn, François Marthouret, Michel Gionti
Seen on: 13.6.2017
CN: all kinds of abuse and racist shit
At the beginning of the 19th century, Sarah Baartman (Yahima Torres) follows her employer Hendrick Cesar (Andre Jacobs) from South Africa to the UK. She hopes for a better life there, instead Cesar exhibits her as a carnival attraction: a “savage” black woman with a big butt. When they meet bear tamer Réaux (Olivier Gourmet), he poshes them to go to the next level of the show, despite the troubles they already encountered in the UK.
The story of Sarah Baartman is a horrifying example of colonialism and racism and everything that is wrong with white people. Unfortunately, the film is an exercise in sensationalism and does neither Baartman nor her story justice.
After Blue Is the Warmest Color it didn’t really come as a surprise to me that Kechiche is more interested in the male perspective on his female characters than he is in those characters himself. But in this case, this becomes even more grievous than in BItWC because we’re talking about an actual woman of color who has been mistreated for the entertainment of white people for all of her life (and even after her death) and instead of finally giving us her perspective of things, Kechiche instrumentalizes her yet again to satisfy the white (male) gaze (yes, I’m aware that Kechiche isn’t white – the gaze of the film is, though).
Yahima Torres is astounding in her role, especially considering those filmic circumstances. Every once in a while there is a scene where she manages to take the film away from Kechiche and where the film this should have been shines through – all thanks to Torres’ tremendous acting.
Given that the film seems to delight in lingering on Sarah’s pain and her abuse and barely gives her a voice in the process, instead focusing on Réaux, it’s absolutely tough to watch and hard to stomach. I happened to see it with a couple of friends with the express purpose of discussing the film, and I can only recommend that setting for watching it (or not watching it at all). Because it’s definitely not a film that can be left uncommented. As a basis for discussion it may be of worth. But mostly it’s a racist, sexist pile of shit.
Summarizing: Better to inform yourself about Baartman another way.