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HEADING SOUTH (Vers le sud) (director/writer: Laurent Cantet; screenwriters: Robin Campillo/based on short stories by Dany Laferrière; cinematographer: Pierre Milon; editor: Robin Campillo; cast: Charlotte Rampling (Ellen), Karen Young (Brenda), Louise Portal (Sue), Ménothy Cesar (Legba), Lys Ambroise (Albert), Jackenson Pierre Olmo Diaz (Eddy), Anotte Saint Ford (Limousine Girl), Guiteau Nestant (Frank), Violette Vincent (Legba’s Mother); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Caroline Benjo/Carole Scotta/Simon Arnal; Genius Entertainment; 2005-Canada/France-in English and French with English subtitles)
“Erotic drama that probes lust, a police state and exploitation in the idyllic sunny climes of Haiti.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Laurent Cantet (“Human Resources”/”Time Out”) directs this erotic drama that probes lust, a police state and exploitation in the idyllic sunny climes of Haiti, which in the late 1970s was ruled with an iron-hand by the ruthless dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (nicknamed Baby Doc) and his thug enforcers called Tonton Macoutes. It’s adapted from three short stories by Haitian writer Dany Laferriere and written by Cantet and Robin Campillo.

The film follows three middle-aged lonely and sexually repressed white women, dissatisfied with the men back home, who are strangers on a summer holiday and meet in an isolated beach resort in Port-au-Prince called the Hotel Petite Anse (filmed in the Dominican Republic, because Haiti was too violent) to soak up the rays and sample the young gigolo black men who get gifts and money for sexually satisfying them. A regal local black man, Albert (Lys Ambroise), is the disapproving maître d’ for this erotic utopia and safe haven for rich foreign white women to sample the local resources without interference. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is the haughty queen bee of the resort, an erudite and sociable 55-year-old who teaches French literature at an exclusive girls’ boarding school in Wellesley, near Boston, and who has been taking her summer vacations here for the last six years thinking she has found paradise; Sue (Louise Portal) is an amiable, easy-going, chubby woman who is a manager in a Montreal kitchenware warehouse and comes down here to let go of her inhibitions; and Brenda is a high-strung 48-year-old recent divorcee from Savannah, Georgia, who three years ago came here with her husband and achieved her first orgasm with a 15-year-old local named Legba (Menothy Cesar). Brenda hopes to resume with Legba where she left off, but finds that he’s now one of many boys who hang around the beach to service the older white women tourists for money. Soon Brenda antagonizes Ellen by brazenly honing in on Legba for herself without sharing him, and he’s the love of the catty Ellen’s life. So in this tropical paradise spot, where the tourists don’t have to see how the poor live, the two compete for the gracious smiling and virile Legba. But the lad has other troubles … he’s angered an important corrupt city bigwig from the ruling party over taking up again with his old flame from the slums (Anotte Saint Ford), who is the colonel’s mistress, and has to go on the run.

The film has a field day targeting the lust of the emotionally needy women for the boys and how the boys are appreciative to get such work in a country where poverty and injustice rule the day.

The disturbing overwrought story leads to tragedy, and sends out mixed signals that sex tourism is just one aspect about a globalization economy that still keeps the local men down on Maggie’s farm as the ones exploited by either their government, the world economy or more gently by the tourists. Haiti is viewed as such a backward and dirt-poor place, where life is cheap and the westerners’ dollar, especially from the Americans, results in “Everything they touch turning to garbage.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”