Apr 27, 2013

On DVD: Heading South

This film by French director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out) is an interesting exploration of the sexual tourism of white mature women of means who travel to some banana republic, Haiti in this case, to get laid with strapping, dirt poor young black studs. I saw this happen on a trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. The movie captures the akwardness of these mutually "beneficial" arrangements between the tourists and the touristed. Sexual predatory tourism by males is very common in any underdeveloped country with a beach, yet sexual tourism by women is a slightly different matter. It is certainly less common, though it happens in places like Jamaica, Cuba, the D.R, and probably other Third World "paradises".
The arrangement goes something like this: I pay for your food and drinks and perhaps clothes and entertainment and maybe even buy something for your family, and you sleep with me and keep me company and romance me. I live a fabulous fantasy of sexual freedom and pleasure in an edenic context, far from my job, my relatives and my real life, and you give me your body in exchange for money, in front of your peers, some of who hold decent, hard jobs that don't pay for a living and certainly aren't much fun. What happens in the bedroom is between you and me. Perhaps there I let you have the upper hand. But in the light of day, I boss you around, boytoy, and your studly manhood is somehow compromised.
What is interesting about Heading South is that it seems to bite much more than it can chew. It sheds light on the politics between the sexes, on racism, on the role of mature women in affluent societies, on how life is cheap in poor, corrupt places, and it is also about the personae people shed when in a different place. Laurent Cantet's movies are always about the emotional ramifications of the political and economic imbalances between people, and although it isn't hard to guess which side he is on, he is never preachy. He usually achieves an intelligent, graceful balance of the personal and the deeply political, because the personal stories he tells are strong, and his characters interesting.
Heading South is a quirky movie. At moments it seems a tad melodramatic, with plot twists more suitable for a telenovela. At moments, the main characters talk directly to camera, as if they were being interviewed for a documentary. Cantet got incredible performances from both Charlotte Rampling and Karen Young. La Rampling is an expert on women who piss icewater. Here she plays a woman obsessed with her own power, a major bitch on wheels. It is a credit to her chops that the nastier she gets, the more sympathetic, or rather pathetic, she becomes. Her speech to camera gave me goosebumps. Karen Young is extraordinarily resourceful and surprising as an American woman from Savannah who seems like an innocent abroad and then turns out to be something quite different. Heading South is a disturbing, thought-provoking film about a subject that people would rather not think about: who wants to dwell on poverty and injustice when sipping their piña colada?

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