Saturday, October 06, 2007

Vers le Sud (Heading South, 2005) * * *

Heading South (link to DVD at Amazon)
Heading South is a French and Canadian co-production movie about middle age women (1 ex-pat Brit living in Boston, 1 divorced housewife from Atlanta, and 1 Canadian) who go to Haiti to live at a 'resort' at the beach and hook up with young, as in 15 to 19-yr old, young men who work as gigolos. The press for the movie features pictures of the women in bathing suits locked in an embrace with jet-black, nude men. Well, they are not really nude, they have speedos on. Anyhow you get the idea. So this movie would seem to be a lust-fest for middle-age woman to fulfill taboo fantasies involving black men. Ok, just for the record, I want you to know that I had read reviews of this movie and I knew that this is not what the movie is about. Even though I did watch this at a hotel while on a business trip, I want to make clear that I would never watch vacuous lust-films targeted at middle-age women, ever, really. Of course, when I tell you what this movie IS about, you will probably wonder why on earth I would watch it. Well, all I can say is that I didn't think it would be quite as preachy as the reviews implied it would be. But then given the history of Haiti and the role of the U.S. in Haiti's history, I should have known the moment I saw that this movie was a French production.

So what is this movie really about. It is about how North America -- especially the United States -- degrades and pollutes South America. Usually movies like this focus on the United States government. This movie is more personal. It is about how the people of North America degrade the people of South America. Here they degrade not by intent, but because they think the world revolves around them, because they are blind and uninterested in the poverty around them and because they don't see the people as real but rather convenient caricatures who love to do their bidding. Ug, where have I heard this all before -- oh yeah the 1970s. Yawn.

The movie is set in the early 1970s during the brutal and corrupt dictatorship of 'Baby Doc' (his father was the previous dictator and was a doctor). Haiti was originally a slave colony of the French. In the late 1790s, Haitian slaves mounted a slave rebellion and in 1804 Haiti declared its independence. Haiti was the first colony in the Americas to declare its independence and the only case of a successful slave rebellion. In 1915, the U.S. invaded Haiti. In 1934, the U.S. left and left the Haitian Army in control. After lots of turmoil, Dr. Duvalier becomes president and later dictator. He is quite ruthless and his paramilitary is infamous. When he dies in 1971, he leaves his son 'Baby Doc' in power.

This is part of the message of this film: these women who come down to Haiti do not know or care about world outside their hotel grounds, and they see no connection between their personal egoistic attitudes and foreign policies of the north. (I'm not sure I see such a connection either, but clearly the movie makers do). The women care that Haiti is cheap and there are nice young men who will pamper them and have sex with them. The women are sympathetic -- they are not portrayed as monsters or caricatures -- yet if you think about it, they are monstrous. They fall in love with these men and are desperate about the young mens' well-being, but they really don't care about Haiti or about these men as Haitians. "Come away with me. Get away from all this. I can get you a passport," they beg to their lovers. They don't understand why the men have no interest in leaving and becoming their lap dog. Ug.

So the movie is shrill in its message, but on the positive side, the boys are pretty and scantily clad.