Saartjie film a hit in Venice

VENICE - A film based on the true story of Saartjie Baartman, the woman who was brought from South Africa to Europe in the early 1800s and paraded as a freak of nature thanks to her appearance, has impressed audiences in Venice.

Directed by Tunisian-born Abdellatif Kechiche, Venus Noire is on at the annual Venice festival and the warm reaction after press screenings suggests it is a favourite for awards at Saturday's closing ceremony.

Yahima Torres plays Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus who travelled to London in 1810 and Paris several years later in the hope of making a fortune.

The movie, which recalls elements of the 1980 picture The Elephant Man, opens with Baartman playing the part of a tamed savage before a raucous London crowd which is at turns repulsed and fascinated by her figure and behaviour.

Baartman was both a slave to an avaricious master and a willing participant in a lucrative trade. But after moving to Paris her exposure becomes increasingly cruel and humiliating and she dies a prostitute.

After her death, French scientists pored over her remains, preserving her brain and genitals for posterity and theorising that she was closer to apes than European humans and therefore from an inferior race.

Her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002 and buried in the Cape Province where she was born. For Kechiche, the story of cruelty and intolerance has repercussions today.

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