Heading South

Heading South


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Heading South is the celluloid version of one of these trashy women's novels readily available at Tesco, or any airport, for under a fiver, and which subsequently find themselves making the inevitable transition onto Channel 5's daily matinee slot.

As the story goes, three middle-aged women arrive in Seventies Haiti in hope of a summer of sex, sun and sand. In other words, Club 18-30 for old farts. With a pocket full of cash and a hint of western bravura, it doesn't take long before the ladies find third base with young, muscle-bound, resort boys of their choice. Good luck to them, but what about the story? What about the context?

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Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is a middle-class English literature teacher from Boston, who has made this particular Haitian beach resort her home each summer. Conceding she's never going to meet any hot young stud at her posh all girls' school, she's there for the action, and makes no bones about it.

Then there's Brenda (Karen Young), a more reserved, shy American from Georgia, who returns to Haiti to see Legba (Menothy Cesar), a local boy whom she fell for after experiencing her first orgasm three years earlier.

Finally, there's Sue (Louise Portal), a likeable, bubbly, grossly underdeveloped character from France. It's not really clear why she's there, other than for the obvious.

As things develop amidst much flirting and dancing on the beach, we are introduced to Legba, a tall, handsome, charming local boy and, as it turns out, Ellen's clear favourite. While she plays the cold-hearted realist out for a good time, she conceals her true feelings for him until the end. Meanwhile, Brenda is busy wooing her long lost love on the dance floor and the bedroom, and so a fatal love triangle ensues.

On the other side of the fence, we learn of Legba's dual lifestyle. A charming gigolo by day, he dodges bullets and unsavoury characters at night, and still finds time to visit his mother in the shantytown and fill her pockets with western cash.

There are a number of fundamental flaws in co-writer/director Laurent Cantet's work. First, the gaping holes in the narrative. On far too many occasions the audience is left guessing, particularly with Legba's Jekyll and Hyde existence, which oscillates between the sanctuary of the beach resort and the harsh realities of Haitian urban life. There are hints of this and that and the next thing, but no reasons given as to why he is being tracked by local Mafia. Nothing is transparent.

Instead of context and plot, Cantet has aimed at a character-based narrative, which falls flat due to lack of characters. The only two who possess an iota of interest are Ellen and Legba. Well brought up and educated, Ellen knowingly represents the corruption of the western way within another corrupt system. Playing a cold hearted, lost and emotionally repressed woman, Rampling fills the role brilliantly and is watchable, as always. Likewise, Cesar does well as a happy-go-lucky chancer, caught between confused, rich tourists and dire, home grown poverty.

Little can be said of the others, which is not the fault of the actors, who must perform within a desperately thin framework. In the end, they do their bit in redeeming a deeply flawed picture to a level just below mediocrity.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2006
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Three female tourists, looking for fun in Haiti, end up with more than they bargained for.
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Director: Laurent Cantet

Writer: Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet, based on La Chair Du Maitre by Dany Laferriere

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young, Louise Portal, Menothy Cesar, Lys Ambroise, Jackenson Pierre Olmo Diaz, Wilfried Paul

Year: 2005

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France/Canada


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