Gazes, Faces, Hands

Othering Objectification and Spectatorial Surrender in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Vénus noire and Carl Th. Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc

in Exploring the Black Venus Figure in Aesthetic Practices

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Abstract

Jorunn S. Gjerden addresses viewing behaviour induced by cinematography in Abdellatif Kechiche’s portrayal of Sara Baartman by comparing Vénus noire (2010) with Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928). The juxtaposition of Dreyer’s figuration of the epitomised androgynous and virginal white woman and Kechiche’s critique of the typecast hyper-feminine and over-sexed black female body reveals that despite their alleged contrast, the protagonists of both films appear as dehumanised constructs of a similar white male gaze associated with institutional power abuse and knowledge production. With reference to Gilles Deleuze’s theories of haptic visuality and the affection–image, Gjerden argues that facial close-ups, camera and frame mobility, lightning and kinaesthetic patterns at the same time undermine such objectifying diegetic gazes on the level of reception in the two films. Their cinematographic techniques activate the viewer’s response performatively by way of an optical loss of perspective and an increased bodily involvement. Consequently, drawing on insights from Dreyer’s film, Vénus noire challenges the objectifying gaze on Black Venus through its concrete formal structure, as it replaces the cognitive mastery corollary to Western typecasting with a bodily spectatorship of surrender and immersion.