Politics makes strange bedfellows, and global politics makes even stranger bedfellows than that. Or so it would seem from French director Laurent Cantet's Heading South, which is set in late-'70s Haiti, when Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier and the Tonton Macoutes were murdering anyone who was foolish enough to stick his neck out. The streets of Port-au-Prince were rife with tension. Meanwhile, down at the beachfront Hotel Petit Anse, a tourist mecca for white women 'of a certain age,' love was for sale. Lithe, muscular Haitian men, many of them in their teens, were more than happy to be part of the service economy. (It sure beat starving.) And Heading South is about the women who loved them, or thought they did.
Charlotte Rampling, still exploring the dark shadows of sexual need some 32 years after The Night Porter, is Ellen, a literature professor at Wellesley who spends her summers chaperoning the other guests while saving the best boys for herself. She loves the lovemaking, but she especially loves the power. And that power is threatened when Brenda (Karen Young), a divorcÃe from Savannah, arrives with a prior claim on Legba (Menothy Cesar), the Maurice Chevalier of rent-boy fun in the sun. If this all sounds like a neo-colonialist Stella Got Her Groove Back, that's in there. But Cantet is so sensitive to the nuances of First World/Third World bartering that you can't quite figure out who to blame, or exactly how much blame there is to go around.