February 6, 2007

Heading South: French film set in Haiti

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Older women who pay for their sex is a tricky topic for film (think the original version of "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" for one not-so-shining example) but French filmmaker Laurent Cantet does it justice by weaving his story as much with sociological, economic and political strands as with the sexual. Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young and Louise Portal are the women, and Methony Cesar is the young man for whom two of them lust in the unusually thoughtful Heading South. The film is set in Haiti in the 1970s, a country that’s been consistently looted by its rulers, decade after decade, and the loot here is both money and flesh, yet among the major characters there are no easy heroes or villains. Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out) appreciates the needs of these women, as well as those of the men who service them. He begins the movie with a scene of such quietly devastating desperation that the feelings engendered--frightening and queasy-making in the extreme because they combine fear, sex, money and love—will guide your understanding throughout the entire film.

As the "dowager" among the dames, Rampling - gorgeous as ever these days - is precise, scary and moving. Karen Young gets a rare chance to shine in a sizeable role, which helps make up for her wasted usage in the recent Factotum. And the wonderful French-Canadian actress Louise Portal (The Barbarian Invasions and the splendid but little-seen Le Grand Serpent du Monde) brings her rich, earthy honesty to the proceedings. Director and co-writer Cantet (with his talented editor and sometimes writing partner Robin Campillo) treats us viewers as though we, too, were guests of this half-island and hotel. We never know as much as we might wish about what is happening and why, but as we begin to understand the needs and desires of the important characters (as well as the country’s political/economic situation), we learn quite enough to become very, very upset.

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Posted by cphillips at February 6, 2007 2:01 AM

great review, James. I loved seeing Charlotte Rampling play someone kind of conniving, she's always such a nicey-nice.

Posted by: Erin at February 6, 2007 5:03 PM
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