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28890: Hermantin(News)HEADING SOUTH (unrated) | three stars (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Fri, Aug. 11, 2006

HEADING SOUTH (unrated) | three stars

On politics, strange bedfellows

Los Angeles Daily News

Heading South has reportedly found an appreciative audience of middle-age women in New York.

Why is eminently understandable. Set at a Haitian resort in the late 1970s, the film sensitively portrays the feelings of North American women who, past the age of desirability in their peer group, purchase the attentive affections of gorgeous young Haitian men.

Yes, the movie is about sexual tourism, although reversing the usual gender roles really does make a whole lot of difference. While wealthy males doing this with Third World girls would naturally evoke audience disgust, women who feel unloved taking similar steps evokes a more complex and sympathetic reaction.

The movie is not designed to be a fulfillment fantasy, though much of it plays that way. And while its main characters are admirably humanized, this is nevertheless a movie about economic exploitation. It's a very sexual work, but it is far more political at its core. Adapted from three short stories by Quebec-based Haitian writer Dany Laferriere by the brilliant French director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out), the movie is both sensually languid and charged with an underlying unease.

And any ventures into the Duvalier regime's capital, Port-au-Prince, remind tourists and residents alike that their beachside idyll is a bubble of fragile joy surrounded by sudden violence and unending misery.

Queen bee of the encampment is Charlotte Rampling's Ellen. A cynical, Sybaratic French instructor at Wellesley University, she leads the more demure ladies in, supposedly, purely physical celebrations of young black flesh.

But then Brenda (The Sopranos' Karen Young) shows up. On a previous visit with her then-husband, Brenda found herself irresistibly drawn to a local boy named Legba. This led to the first orgasm of her life. She associated this with true love, and a few years later has worked up the courage to return and claim Legba for her soul mate.

Trouble is, he's grown into a man (charmingly and powerfully played by first-time actor Menothy Cesar) who, while happy to service the generous ladies, refuses to be anybody's anything, even their heart's desire. Legba is also the cocksure Ellen's favorite. The tension between the two women explodes in devastating accusations.

When the subject isn't sexually related, Cantet wisely focuses most of the film's attention on Legba's life outside of the resort, his dealings with government bullies and strained relationships with family and friends. He becomes the film's most important character.

By the end of the film, both needy Brenda and haughty Ellen have grown in surprising and necessary ways. But whatever the white women come to realize, they still have options. And because of the way things are, the men who provide them so much pleasure are nowhere near that lucky.

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young, Menothy Cesar, Louise Portal, Lys Ambroise.

Director: Laurent Cantet.

Screenwriters: Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo.

Producers: Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta, Simon Arnal.

A Shadow Distribution release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, violence, drug use, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Intracoastal; in Broward: Sunrise.