HEADING SOUTH (Laurent Cantet, 2005)

In the late 1970s Haiti attracted tourists from up north. Ellen, a Wellesley College professor, 55, has been finding her “Roman Spring” at a beach resort there for the past six years. Brenda, a 45-year-old divorcée from Savannah, nastily competes with Ellen for Legba, who, when he was 15 three years earlier, inspired Brenda’s first orgasm. Unbeknownst to Ellen and Brenda, because she is discreet, Sue, from Quebec, also shares a hotel bed with Legba, where at least he gets some sleep. Legba’s eventual murder may seem irrelevant; but Laurent Cantet’s Vers le sud, from Dany Laferrière’s La chair du maître, draws a bracing connection between the 1915 U.S. occupation of Haiti and the corrupt, brutal regimes of Papa and Bébé Doc Duvalier half a century, and more, later.
     Ellen and Brenda embody selfish U.S. presumption. The former’s viewfinder shows a rear view of Legba, as he lies naked in her bed, that recalls the view of him that Brenda, freshly arrived, espies on the beach. This reduction of Legba to a mere image is underscored by two things: Brenda’s “love” for him because of the way he looks at her—a practiced look soliciting loot by which he helps his mother in her Port-au-Prince slum shack; the fact that Legba is the only main character denied a revealing personal monologue. In charge of the hotel restaurant, Albert moves beyond family history in his monologue: “This time, the [U.S.] invaders . . . have more dangerous weapons than cannons: dollars, so that everything they touch turns to garbage. The whole country is rotten.”
     Legba and a former native girlfriend, who is being kept, likely, by a Duvalier official, are murdered together—by her “guardian angel,” her master’s chauffeur. In the dead of night.
     This is Cantet’s strongest film.


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