Running Time: 105 minutes
Rated: Rated M.
For a while, Laurence Cantet's fans might be wondering whether he has forgotten his deeply social concerns in his previous fine films, Resources Humaine and L'Emploi du Temps (Time Out). A moving prologue where a Haitian woman offers to sell her daughter to the proprietor of a hotel for tourists should have warned us. Cantet has a lot to say.
The setting is Haiti in the late 70s.
This is the kind of film where audiences will respond quite differently, depending on their points of view, especially on social justice. The three central characters are three wealthy middle-aged women from the US and Canada who holiday in Haiti, especially for the young men who operate as gigolos at the hotel. They are women whose busy lives are basically empty and they travel for what Cantet refers to as 'love tourism' rather than 'sex tourism', though they are predatory in their needy attitudes nonetheless. Were these women or audiences who share their presuppositions to watch this film, they might so identify with the women that they would, like the women themselves, not be aware of the social undercurrents in the country or ignore them or push them aside.
On the other hand, those who are alert to the sub-plot of the young Haitian who services the women, his other life beyond the hotel, and the comments made to the audience by the hotel manager, Vers le Sud turns into a strong critique of the affluent west who have no qualms in calmly exploiting the economically, socially and morally poor. As the hotel manager tells us, the country (under Duvalier rule with secret police and terror murders) is corrupt. His family had fought the Americans in the war of 1915. He says the current weapon is far more destructive than guns. It is dollars.
This means that the film works on several levels all the way through. While the women and their emotional crises are in the forefront - and very well portrayed and acted - there is a whole lot more going on, of deeper human significance.
The women are played by Charlotte Rampling with her skill in being both cold and cynical as well as deeply passionate. Louise Portal is a genial factory boss from Montreal. Karen Young is the seeming innocent who is ultimately as heartless as Charlotte Rampling's character.
The three women are given brief monologues (as is the style of the short stories by Dany Laferriere which Cantet has adapted) which reveal their basic attitudes and expectations.
On the surface, as sunny as the beaches where most of the action takes place. Below the surface, the ugliness and destruction, that is generally hidden from the tourists.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.