Saturday, July 08, 2006

Heading South Redux

Vers le sudBack in March I saw and wrote review notes on Laurent Cantet's 2005 film, Heading South (Vers le sud), a movie exploring White female sex tourists in Baby Doc Duvalier-era Haiti. I praised the film and hoped that it received wider distribution. It has now returned to NYC for a theatrical run, and Anthony Holden extols its many virtues in today's New York Times. Reading his review, however, it struck me that he fails to note one of the most obvious and provocative aspects of the movie: the sex tourists are White women from North America (one Frenchwoman living in the US, one Southerner, and one French Canadian), a rarely broached scenario that I thought Cantet deserved praise for risking. (J. Hoberman's Village Voice review notes this point, while also exploring the film's pre-AIDS sentimentality. For the white women, it's an idyll of the sort that globalization increasingly makes possible, at least at those moments when their emotions are ascendant; for the Haitians outside the confines of the resort, it's a more terrifying story.) As I said in my earlier review, I could not imagine a White American director, even an indie one, taking on this theme, and a Black or Latino director would probably struggle to find funding. One of the movie's stars, the splendidly astringent Charlotte Rampling, was a guest on Leonard Lopate's WNYC show this past Friday, and guided him through the racial-class and colonialist dynamics gently, but with incomparably frosted tongs.

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