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WGUC Reviews

Heading South

Heading South
Shadow Distribution
Rated R
Review by: Larry Thomas

Filmgoers and film critics alike complain that there are never any good roles these days for middle-aged women, other than Meryl Streep, of course. Heading South dispels that notion with the casting of two middle-aged women in strong roles. Briton Charlotte Rampling is 60, and has been in films for 40 years. Karen Young, a 50 year old American actress with a previously low-profile career, is finally given an opportunity to shine in both this film, and the new Matt Dillon release Factotum. Both Rampling and Young put to rest the notion that younger is better... and sexier.

Too bad they don't have a better vehicle for their star wares. In Heading South, set in the late 1970s, lonely, affluent white ladies journey to a secluded resort on the tip of Haiti. The location is breathtaking, the food is good, and the staff is impeccable. But the main attraction in this paradise is the availability of the handsome young locals, some barely legal, who serve as gigolos for more money than they could ever make in their native country.

Rampling plays Ellen, a teacher of French literature at Wellesley, who has spent her past six summers in Haiti. This year, she's favored with the attention of Legba, an 18-year-old lad who is charming and intelligent. Their ideal idyll is interrupted with the arrival of Brenda, played by Karen Young, a divorcee from Savannah. Brenda had been at the resort with her husband three years earlier and became quite infatuated with Legba. Now she's returned to determine if it was just infatuation, or something more. That sets the stage for their conflict, and these two actresses do a fine job without going over the top.

The main characters, Ellen, Brenda, and Sue, break from the story and talk directly to the camera in the first person to give us a thumbnail sketch of their lives and what causes them to indulge in their sexual sabbaticals.

The filmmakers had good intentions in contrasting an exclusive resort where wealthy ladies pay for sex in one of the poorest countries in the world, with the height of Baby Doc Duvalier's reign of terror over the citizens of Haiti. The parallels of the imperialism of sex, and the imperialism of politics are apparent. But since we are shown very little of the country, and except for a couple of scenes, any of the brutality and oppression of the political system, it doesn't jell. There is no sense of dread or fear when the tourists venture away from the resort.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Sue is played by Louise Portal, a French-Canadian actress who acts as an observer of the tension between Ellen and Brenda. Lys Ambroise, in his first film role, is Albert. He is in charge of the resort, but despises what he must do for a living, as it would undoubtedly disgrace his now-dead father. Playing Legba is newcomer Ménothy Caesar who is most disarming and likeable. He has the potential to do well for himself in films.

While Heading South is competently acted, well-photographed and nicely paced, it is basically about empty people living empty lives. And that, sad to say, makes for an empty movie.


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