In Heading South (or Vers le Sud, before the film was re-titled for speakers of American) director Laurent Cantet adapts a few short stories by Dany Laferrière, positing a trio of white Northerners on a beach in Haiti during the summer of 1979. The three women — played by Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young and Louise Portal — adopt (paid) black boyfriends who are three or more decades younger than themselves. Cantet intends the viewers, and if not them, then certainly the reviewers, to inhale the geopolitik drift of associations vis-à-vis “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s regime, the ruling power at the time.
The movie’s idea of political relevance is a joke, however. It’s all subliminal, and while I don’t mind having to work to divine meanings from an artist’s intentions, here, anyway, Cantet isn’t an artist. He’s made the kind of film that’s meant to be inferred, not watched — in short, a natural for “analysis” by practitioners of what I call the Village Voice school of arts criticism, which turns out reviewers who are so hyperaware politically that you don’t have to be, and neither does the moviemaker. There’s more talk of Duvalier in the press kit than in Heading South itself, a movie in which one minor character effusively refers to another minor character as a “guardian angel,” then, in due time, said angel turns out to be a pistol-brandishing assassin, to the surprise of absolutely no one.
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