Heading South

This is sort of a French take on How Stella Got Her Groove Back, only in Heading South, the women are white tourists in Haiti, and they’re well aware of the fact that they’re dating prostitutes. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) and Brenda (Karen Young) are 50-somethings who pay for the company of the stunningly handsome Legba (Ménothy Cesar), a young Haitian man who makes his money convincing retirement-age white women that they’re beautiful and worthy of love. He’s so good at what he does that both Brenda and Ellen fall in love with him. Meanwhile, he’s got his own problems with the local police, but the resort-goers who see him only in his Casanova mode never understand this, and as his fate drifts away from theirs, they misunderstand, turn on each other and thrash about in their impotence. Heading South is tremendously sensitive to the emotional needs of the women and the political consequences of their sex tourism. Sadly, it’s also marked by boring cinematography and a dull midsection. The beginning and end are great, though, and both Rampling and Cesar give standout performances. Even better is Lys Ambroise as the Haitian hotel concierge who mediates between the slum world of his country and the cash-and-comfort world of the northern tourists. Sad, subtle and smart, if a bit overlong, Heading South deals comfortably with uncomfortable truths.

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