Heading South (Shadow Distribution, NR)

Charlotte Rampling is Ellen, an aging bourgeois woman who lives in Haiti seemingly solely for the purpose of going to bed with the strapping young, black natives.

 

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France is one of the most fertile countries for film, and, as a result, a lot of great French filmmakers tend to get lost in the shuffle, especially if they aren't as visually audacious as someone like, say, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Granted, he is not too obscure, as three of his films have gotten theatrical distribution in the United States, but one of the greatest of these modern, lesser-known French filmmakers is Laurent Cantet, who previously made a name for himself for documenting the travails of the French middle class and any class struggle connected to them in his films Human Resources (1999) and Time Out (2001). There's still some class struggle present in his newest film, Heading South, but it isn't handled in the same way that he has tackled the material in the past, and the overriding plot arc and themes in the film quite different from what his (few) admirers have come to know him for.

Heading South stars one of everyone's favorite French actresses, Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool, The Night Porter), as Ellen, an aging bourgeois woman who lives in Haiti seemingly solely for the purpose of going to bed with the strapping young, black natives. Ellen isn't the only person like this there; in fact, she makes her group of friends up from others who share her interests. Most notable is Brenda (Karen Young), who hails from Savannah, Ga., and is a lot nicer and more personable than the icy and self-possessed Ellen. Other people come and go, such as driver/restaurateur Albert (Lys Ambroise), who gets to watch all of the women's power plays from afar, and Legba (Ménothy Cesar), who is the women's prime object of affection, but most of the conflict arises between Ellen and Brenda.

There is quite a lot of English dialogue here, and Cantet kind of bobbles his direction of it, so that whenever the characters speak in English (even those for whom English is their native language) it comes off sounding kind of wooden and unnatural. Seems Cantet won't be going to Hollywood any time soon. But short of his problems with directing in English, Cantet shows as sure a hand with this material as he has in French factories (Human Resources) or alongside a man who can't admit to his family that he's lost his job (Time Out). What it all essentially boils down to is that Cantet is a great, classically oriented filmmaker, and one whose reach extends beyond just what people have come to know and love him for. Let's hope that Heading South chips away at the problem of finding him an appreciative audience here in the States, because he certainly does deserve it.

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