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Vers le sud, Laurent Cantet (2005)

Beguiling and ugly little movie about a trio of white middle-aged American women who, for distinct and individual reasons, take their holidays at a ho-hum beach resort in Haiti expressly in order to have (paid) love affairs with beautiful young Haitian men. The most sympathetic of the women is from Canada, works in a warehouse, looks forward to her week with her lover “Neptune” all year, and, while she feels very tenderly toward him, even thinks she may love him, has no illusions about their future. This character acts as the fulcrum, in that she remains constant throughout the film; the other two, though, change utterly. Karen Young, who you may recognize as FBI agent Robyn Sanseverino from the Sopranos, is a romantic who thinks she’s in love with her gigolo at first but later turns into a steely pragmatist; the terrifying Charlotte Rampling makes a parallel journey in the other direction.

Cantet of course wants us to be thinking about power, colonialism, race, sex, gender, economics, politics, etc., and so we dutifully and inevitably do, but the movie is oddly unaffecting given the explosive potential of its content. Part of the failure, ironically, is due to Rampling’s astonishing brilliance as an actor. Because no one else in the movie has anywhere near her force or presence, I found myself growing impatient during scenes in which she doesn’t appear. The movie’s also extraordinarily boring to look at. I think Cantet very consciously intended to make Haiti look like the desperate third-world country it is, rather than an idealized tropical paradise the women want to imagine it is, and he succeeds brilliantly, but forgets that it’s still necessary for him to make the place’s pathos visually interesting; too many scenes look to have been shot with an amateur tourist’s camcorder.

Not as good as Cantet’s truly wonderful L’Emploi du temps, but utterly worth watching.

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