(VERS LE SUD) (2005)
DIRECTED BY LAURENT CANTET
eaturing: Leslie Feinberg & An Xiao
Heading South, directed by French filmmaker Laurent Cantet and inspired by the literature of Haitian author Dany Lafferiere, takes a look at the sex tourism industry in Haiti during Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s oppressive regime in the late 1970s.
The opening monologue explains how the main character, Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) arrived at her sexual peak: on a beach, raping a teenage Haitian boy as her husband waited in the hotel. This shocking secret, revealed at the beginning of the film, is then completely overshadowed by the sob stories of three middle-aged white women fleeing neglect and broken homes.
They come to “paradise” to shed their inhibitions, seeking love and sex from Haitian men in a secluded resort called Hotel Petite Anse. Menothy Cesar plays Legba, 15, the lead male and object of desire, who has Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) and Brenda (Karen Young) infatuated with “the way he looks” at them, revealing their own insecurities about their sexual appeal.
The movie uses the setting of 1970s Haiti to highlight how the struggle for social and economic stability affects the everyday lives of those who are involved both in and outside of the sex industry. By asking the audience to identify with middle-aged, sexually and racially perverse white women, the film ignores the fact that they are committing sex crimes, including pedophilia.
They are shown more as victims of dysfunctional relationships, rather than racially and economically privileged women with psychological issues.
An interesting theme in HeadingSouth is that of the power dynamic between sex workers and clients. Do sex workers have agency, or are they the victims of a global sex industry? This issue is demonstrated by portraying Legba as a sex worker who chooses what women he wants to work for while rejecting offers to move to the United States.
Layered with more themes than it can tackle, the film must nevertheless be commended for shedding light on the complexities of sexuality, race, sociopolitical instability and, most importantly, the notion of agency among black male sex workers. The fact that this film is a French production speaks volumes to its sympathetic portrayal of the Western experience and the underdevelopment of the Haitian characters.
On a more emotional note, the movie reinforces the ideas that money can’t buy love, and that confusing love, sex, and power will leave one brokenhearted.
Heading South is currently playing at Angelika Film Center, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, and Kew Gardens Cinemas.