by Fabien Lemercier
- A plunge into the frontier between luxury and poverty, based on cut-price sentiments and dangerous mysteries. With all the talent of a filmmaker who navigates through numerous levels of perception
"The good masks are mixed with the bad, but everyone wears a mask". After the highly acclaimed Ressources humaines (Human Resources) and Time Out , the French filmmaker Laurent Cantet continues with Heading South [+see also:
interview: Laurent Cantet
interview: Robin Campillo
interview: Simon Arnal-Szlovak
film profile], subtly exploring the grey zones of our existence by carrying us into a reality with the exotic appearance and muted violence that is Haiti. Screened in official competition at the last Mostra in Venice, the film, ambiguous and unfathomable, on the surface deals with, without taboo, the subject of sexual tourism of Western women in the Caribbean during the ‘70s. Behind this façade, cradled to the languid rhythm of the tropical climate and its paradisiacal beaches, the director slowly allows the truth behind his piece to emerge: the impassable chasm that separates the passing privileged few and the inhabitants of one of the poorest countries on the planet. Developing, in the background, the complexity of the dangerous social and political situation that reigned in Haiti, using short sequences, both menacing and mysterious, Laurent Cantet succeeds with Vers le Sud in achieving an equilibrium on the border of two worlds. Faithful to the false-bottomed screenplay co-written with his habitual accomplice Robin Campillo (after a novel by Dany Laferrière), the filmmaker, as usual, avoids simplification. On the contrary, he tries to film indefinable truths of life, the limits of understanding ourselves and others, by deepening the many feelings of incertitude, in a story that ends with the departures of these tourists of the heart, baptised "those who never die" by natives who do not have the chance to leave.
Walking the very thin demarcation line separating the tropical paradise and the implacable daily lives of the habitants which we guess about more than actually see, Heading South recounts the love of two mature Anglo-Saxon women for a handsome young Haitian Legba (Ménothy Cesar, awarded at Venice for his big screen debut) who lives off his charm. Interpreted by Charlotte Rampling, the falsely caustic one and by Karen Young the naïve one without complex, the two Westerners become involved in an unspoken competition – which will help them on a road to rediscovery - to obtain the exclusivity of this young man who allows himself, with a smile and without commentary, to go from one bed to the other, preserving all the while his independence. But Laurent Cantet, past master as a scene maker and director of actors, is not content to simply paint an outline of this utopia through intimate portraits of these women in search of an orgasm, of easy communication (with Louise Portal completing the trio), of romantic love or of one person’s power over another. He manages, above all, to place himself discreetly on the side of the Haitians, who find in the presence of these rich benefactors the good life that is forbidden to them beyond the walls of the hotel, where an atmosphere of violent death rules the island. Judging neither one nor the other, and avoiding short-cuts, the French director offers spectators intelligent roads for reflection and follows with Heading South a highly coherent cinematic route centred on what he defines as "the search for a place that does not exist". A thread which offers the key to understanding his film within a film, a politico-social piece hiding beneath the subject of female sexual tourism which fogged the minds of certain commentators, dazzled by the sun of the Tropics and the spectacle of naked bodies, to the point where they forgot the heart of Heading South : the impossible understanding between two worlds. As the Haitian cop says to Charlotte Rampling, hesitating over her certitudes during the dramatic epilogue: "you don’t understand him, you know nothing about him".
(Translated from French)
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