Volume 76, Number 9 | July 19 - 25, 2006

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

Heading South (+)

The subject matter of this film is unique: Western women travel to a Haitian resort to have sex with local young men. There have been movies and many news reports of men of all cultures who travel to different parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, where they look for sex and find it with prostitutes, male and female. But I can’t recall a single report and certainly no movie, depicting similar group activities undertaken by women since the adventures of Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in Venice in the movie “Summertime,” (1955) which was in some respects a more acceptable story of a middle-aged woman looking for a sexual adventure.

I have no doubt that “Heading South,” fiction though it may be, reflects true life situations. It is splendidly acted with Charlotte Rampling in the lead. The film is set in the 1970s during the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc. It opens with a conversation between two people, one a mother with a plea concerning her adolescent daughter, and the other we later learn, a bartender at a modest seaside hotel catering to European and American women looking for sex with the locals. The mother asks the bartender, Albert (Lys Ambroise) to take her daughter and protect her from those who would snatch her away for sex purposes. At the hotel, we meet Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) who later tells us she is 55 and who has been there many times and is involved sexually with an attractive 18-year-old Haitian named Legba (Menothy Cesar) who she uses regularly and obviously in prior years for company as well as for sex. We see an unexpected act which appears to be racist when the bartender, himself black, tells Brenda (Karen Young) that the young man, Legba, cannot eat at the hotel restaurant, although he is welcome at the beach. On the other hand, it may not have been racist. It could be explained as forbidding prostitutes like him from dining at the hotel.

Legba is dark, buff and handsome, and he services a number of female guests. His former girlfriend is now the mistress of a jealous Haitian colonel. She reaches out to him, but he wants no part of her. There are scenes of army and police corruption and violence directed at Haitians by Haitians. The desperation of the white women and the good nature of the young Haitian men making their living as prostitutes is fully captured by the script and camera. This is not a movie for voyeurs. There are no truly erotic scenes. Nevertheless, the sexual tensions are always there. Ellen and others in the film are given soliloquies where they speak directly to the audience. When Ellen tells us that she teaches French literature at Wellesley, there is a cackle from the audience.

In his review, New York Times critic Stephen Holden refers to “Heading South” as a “great film.” I wouldn’t go that far. But it certainly is worth seeing.

H.S. said, “The movie was like visiting Haiti without the danger. It showed the horrors of life under a corrupt and brutal regime. The sex is harmless and makes a lot of people feel better.”

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