Brenda (Karen Young), a 48 year old divorcee from Georgia, US, returns to Haiti one summer in the 70s, three years after her previous visit. On her previous visit with her husband, she had met the 15 year old Legba (Menothy Cesar), who was responsible for her first orgasm. Now, on her return, she finds him among other middle aged women tourists, including Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), the 55 year old French literature teacher from Boston, a regular at the beachside hotel run by Albert (Lys Ambroise). Legba is hers now, his beautiful young body a sensual pleasure for her and a means of survival in the poverty stricken island country for him. But there is more at stake than sexual jealousy in a Haiti where corrupt and powerful forces threaten Legba - forces which the tourist women cannot comprehend.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is nothing exotic about the Haiti depicted in Laurent Cantet's adaptation of Dany Laferriere's stories about middle aged American women whose role reversal in the sex tourism trade is a refined and complex version of what many Australian men find enticing in Asia. The sky is forever overcast like an omen, and the atmosphere bristles with the socio-political clash of touristic bonhomie and resident oppression.
The women are older than the teenagers they seduce with money and/or gifts, so they can once again touch youth - both metaphorically and physically. But the film's tone is more robust than that sounds, with Charlotte Rampling energising her scenes and Menothy Cesar adding a complexity to his character of Legba that helps define the film's dramatic throughline. Karen Young is terrific as the strangely naïve yet determined divorcee coming to rekindle a special holiday romance, and Lys Ambroise is a melancholy presence representing the indigenous Haitians who have seen all the foreigners come and go, didn't like any of them and now have to suffer the ignominy of oppression under their own people.
Sex and politics is a heady mix, and Cantet uses these elements to great advantage; the script stumbles in its oblique treatment of a pivotal dramatic incident in the final act, but even so, the film makes for an engaging and haunting experience. The mise en scene is powerfully evocative and the demons revealed by the key characters ride rampant through our imaginations.
Review by Louise Keller:
Hot sex in the Haitian sun is the main thrust of Laurent Cantet's Heading South, but melancholy and loneliness are the film's key emotions. Women over 40 flock to the palm tree lined idyllic beaches where hunky and attentive Haitian men are sex toys for the taking. The film is a mix of fascinating voyeurism as we glean an insight into the lives of three women who escape their everyday lives to 'have fun' in the sun. Cantet's exploration of love, lust and loneliness is at its best when we watch the women on the beach expose their emotions, but his attempt at including more (such as a documentary-like revelations about each of the women, and a clumsy head-on encounter with political voodoo) is less successful.
'You didn't come here for a tan,' says Charlotte Rampling's Ellen to Karen Young's Brenda, who has just found her feet in the sand. But it is clear that nobody comes to Haiti for a tan. The attraction is sex on legs, and the price tag is flexible - dollars or gifts. Rampling portrays a lonely and somewhat desperate 55 year old woman who tries to give 'a free reign' to the charming Legba (Menothy Cesar), but her outwardly free-spirited attitude is caught up by the combination lock of her heart. She is relaxed but cannot help reveal her jealousy when Ellen arrives. Ellen makes no pretence about her notions of romantic love; after all it was while holidaying here with her then husband, that she met Legba in a life-changing encounter.
Politics crash into cupid's euphoria, and suddenly there is ugliness in the lovers' tropical paradise. The final act is long and tedious, and the climactic twist confusing. There is much, however, that is enticing about this glimpse of life where sex is a commodity for women in search of a little attention. The performances are so real, we can almost feel their shame.
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HEADING SOUTH (M)
Vers le sud
CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young, Louise Portal, Menothy Cesar, Lys Ambroise, Jackenson Pierre Olmo Diaz, Wilfried Paul,
PRODUCER: John Hamilton, David Reckziegel, Carola Scotta, Caroline Benjo
DIRECTOR: Laurent Cantet
SCRIPT: Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo (novellas by Dany Laferriere)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Milon
EDITOR: Robin Campillo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Frankie Diago
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2006 (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth); April 26, 2007 (Adelaide); May 3, 2007 (Brisbane)