Heading South opens -- you'd better head out and see it

Back in very early March, when it played the Rendezvous with French Cinema series at the Walter Reade Theatre, I touted Laurent Cantet's latest film, Vers le Sud/Heading South as one of the best films of the year. Happily, it has opened finally, at the Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika in NYC. (If you aren't in New York, you poor people, then you will have to -- as they say -- check your local listings.)

At any rate, I recommend the film without reservation. Here's what I said about it back when the snow was still on the ground:

At a time when mainstream American film has utterly abandoned any interest in issues of class (or in how people make a living, for that matter), it's fascinating to look at the work of Laurent Cantet, a filmmaker who is primarily concerned with precisely those issues, class and work. Even his new film, Vers le sud (Heading South), while set in a leisure paradise, the tourist side of Haiti in the late 1970s, is about the pernicious influences of those two pressing realities as much as it is about race or the nature of a repressive society. Cantet's protagonists are three women who have come to Haiti for sex, quite simply, sex with attractive younger men. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) is a college professor from Boston, Brenda (Karen Young) is a recent divorcee from Atlanta, Sue (Louise Portal, in the most unflashy role of the trio) is a warehouse forewoman from Montreal. Brenda and Ellen find themselves in competition for the attentions of Legba (Menothy Cesar), a bright young man who is perfectly contented to live off their favors.

Early in the film, there is a shot of Brenda walking along the beach. The camera tracks along with her, with only the horizon visible in the background; with the camera moving alongside her, she appears to be standing still. It's a perfect metaphor for Ellen and Brenda's situation, with each struggling against the reality of their situation -- neither of them is going to "win" Legba and take him home to the States, and as Ellen says when taunting Brenda, they couldn't even if they did convince him to come away. The characters in Cantet's films (Human Resources, Time Out and now Heading South) are trapped by economics and by the class roles that accompany such a stern reality. The class structures are subtly indicated in this film, but omnipresent nonetheless.

One other grace note that I found particularly appealing, although I need to see the film again to see how Cantet is using it: Heading South is a film with an unusually variegated auditory texture, built on the contrasts between many different kinds of Francophony: Ellen's precise, almost literary French with her discernible English accent, Brenda's American-laden French, Sue's Quebecois and her own accented French, the Creole spoken by the Haitians among themselves and the various accents they bring to the French they speak to the tourists. There are more class differentiations at work here, but I need another viewing to unravel the patterns at work.

And I can't wait to do so. This is easily one of the best films shown in this program in many years, on the same level of ambition and achievement as the Techines and Chabrols that have highlighted the Rendezvous in the past few years.

Returning to the sleepy summery present and speaking of Techine (anybody know how to do an accent in these things?), his most recent film, Changing Times, opens on July 14. I saw it again last week and it's still terrific, highly recommended. I'll have more to say when it opens.

And a World Cup note:
Yes, the penalty shootout is a terrible way to decide the World Cup. I found myself watching Grosso lining up the final PK this afternoon (NY time, obviously) and thinking, 'Four years of sweat and tears and it all comes down to this idiocy,' but the fact is, I can't think of another better way to decide a knockout tournament with a final that just won't end. Of course, the ideal solution in a perfect world would be a replay, just like the FA Cup in its earlier rounds. Or perhaps as my lovely spouse suggested, they could settle it American-style, with a shootout using real guns and bullets.

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