Charlotte Rampling and French director Laurent Cantet on the set of Heading South, a film that explores sexual tourism during the violent Duvalier regime of 1970s Haiti.
French film explores Haitian service industry
By Rania Richardson
Under the hot Haitian sun, sex may be easy, but its freighted with uneasy disparities in race, age, and class in French director Laurent Cantets Heading South. The film follows three women who head to a resort in Port-au-Prince looking for the antidote to their lonely lives up north. Charlotte Rampling plays an icy professor from Wellesley College who makes a yearly pilgrimage to the island, and attempts to control the action between the other middle-aged white women, and the handsome young Haitian men who make a living servicing the needs of female tourists. Set in the 1970s, the insidious violence of the Duvalier regime underscores the story.
I try to look at political issues through characters that I want to treat very intimately, said the tall, affable director, who was in town last March to screen the film for the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series at Lincoln Center and the IFC. Cantets two previous films, Human Resources and Time Out also dealt with the intertwining of labor issues and personal relationships.
I always try not to judge my characters, not to judge their situation, just give them space to exist and show themselves in all their complexity, like in life, he said. Cantet took pains to avoid making a simplistic film about the exploitation of poor Haitians by predatory American women. These guys wait for a lot of things not only money and the only place they can feel like a man is in the hotel with these women who desire them and can offer little things that make life a bit sweeter, like a Coca-Cola on the beach, a club sandwich
and sometimes money. Outside the hotel it is always menacing there is always danger, and they can be killed
In response to the feelings that may have been stirred up when the film opened in France earlier this year, Cantet explained that the history of Haiti which gained independence from French colonial rule in 1804 following a long and bloody resistance is not very well understood back home. People dont care. The guilt is more general about what happened with the colonization in different countries, said Cantet.
The film is based on the short stories of Haitian-born writer Dany Laferrière. Cantet recalled a personal experience the author relayed to him as insight into the stories. The day [Laferrière] turned 17, he was in Port-au-Prince and he saw a white women. He felt attracted to her and followed her during the whole day in the city walking and walking just because her hair was blonde and her perfume was a sort of promise of something sensual. He thought that was important because those guys can desire those women as much as the women desire them.
Cantet continued, I like to show that reality is more complex than one may think, and that this complexity is something that we have to grasp with lucidity. The film is the story of women getting progressively lucid about themselves, about their place in this country, their place in the world.