With 2007’s “The Secret of the Grain,” Tunisian-born and France-based Abdellatif Kechiche broke through as one of Gaul’s best-regarded Maghrebi-French directors.
His “Black Venus,” which screened in competition at Venice on Wednesday, will be shown at a private screening in Toronto and is now initiating its sales campaign, said MK2 prexy Nathanael Karmitz.
The first of three films of a production pact struck in 2008 between Kechiche and France’s MK2, “Black Venus” is set in the 1800s and tells the true story of Saartije Baartman, a South African maid who, due to her oversized features, was exhibited as a supposed savage, the “Hottentot Venus,” at London freak shows and Paris high-society parties.
Baartman ended up working in a Paris brothel.
“She was a prisoner of other people’s beliefs. This is perhaps the main theme of the film, the oppression of beliefs,” Kechiche told Variety.
The film, however, does reflect on Kechiche himself as an Arab living in France.
The director said he felt something similar to an oppression of beliefs when he was starting out as an actor.
“I suffered because of what people expected from me, not as an actor but as an Arab man,” he said.
And one reason that led Kechiche to change from actor to director, he has said, is to combat the stereotypes of French Arabs.
“Grain” showed Maghrebi emigres trying to live ordinary lives in Marseilles. Similarly, in “Black Venus,” Baartman suffered psychological violence, Kechiche said, adding, “When we are regarded as if we are different, although we’re not different, we come to feel that we are different.”