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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

This week at SFC: Heading South

STUDIOFILMCLUB is pleased to be back from its hiatus – the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, Carifesta, European Film Festival and Galvanize are all now over (however make sure you check the programme for the new Latin American Film Festival starting today at Movie Towne). Trinidad has gone film fest mad it seems – lets hope that this leads to a new crop of homegrown filmmaking. STUDIOFILMCLUB will continue its weekly Thursday screenings – this will be our 151st – presenting a mix of new and old films from around the globe.

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Feature film will commence at 8:30pm.

Thursday ovember 9th

This is a new film set in 1970’s Haiti which is adapted from the writings of Danny Laferriere, who cites 'sexuality as an instrument of political, social or economic power' as his prime concerns. Please read the piece below from the Haitian website:Haiti Xchange

HEADING SOUTH (Laurent Cantet/2006/France/108’)

Heading South, a film of many complexities By Tequila Minsky for HaitiXchange

The film with a buzz about sex tourism is bound to wake up even the most sleepy of conversations this summer but Heading South –Vers Le Sud in French–is more than just about sex tourism. Those looking for sex on screen have been disappointed.

A work where many textures exist at once, this film has different meanings to different people. Proven to be, in part, a mirror to viewers who see what they want to see in it, it is a film about sexuality and desire, politics, some imperialist attitude, dictatorship, violence, social misery for some, sexual misery for others.

Here’s a narrative film that takes place in Haiti, which is not a vodou exploitation movie ala I Walked with a Zombie, or The Serpent and the Rainbow. The last narrative film of this caliber was commercially released over 10 years ago, Raoul Peck’s The Man By The Shore. (Three years ago Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Jean Dominique, The Agronomist, was distributed internationally).

Heading South is in English, French and Haitian Creole with English subtitles.

French director Laurent Cantet brings the viewer to a Haiti in the ‘70’s under dictator Baby Doc Duvalier. Even before the viewer/tourist and a main character, Brenda, are met at the airport, the pressure for ordinary Haitians living in that environment is presented in an ominous suggestive scene that resonates throughout the film.

In gender role reversal, women find an environment where they are pampered as foreign tourists at a Haitian beach resort and serviced as women. (Not that far from Stella getting her groove back in Jamaica). “I didn’t believe women did this,” one Haitian man naively confessed after seeing the film, the women in his party exchanging chuckles.

“These men were prostitutes,” he further commented, “You see the exchange of cash and presents.”

Legba, the main male character explains to his mother where the money comes from that he’s giving her by saying, “I’m working.” Survival is an on-going current.

On seeing the film, one European woman voiced that the North American women’s search for sexual gratification was pathetic. Other women thought it was right-on even while acknowledging how class and American money measure into these relations. Yes, this romancing was paid for, but writer Dany Laferriere, whose short stories the film was based on, prefers to talk about “love tourism” when everybody gets something out of the exchanges. Legba, the Haitian lead, finds the resort a respite from his harsh life.

The film goes beyond just the waterside/bedroom antics. Cocooned in the beach resort, many tourists live in their own bubble, immune to the Haitian realities. One scene in a nearby town, fully illustrates the locals’ realities: the Haitian teens banter and tease each other in a life outside of the resort and then the mood changes; a local strong arm policeman refuses to pay pennies to a kid selling a soda, kicking his bottle-filled cooler sending a clatter of bottles sprawling onto the ground. The locals have no personal control; there is a looming atmosphere of menace. Only when one of the tourist women ventures onto the city streets does she gain the slightest awareness of a Haitian reality outside of her beach life.

The character-driven film focuses on three white women tourists, Ellen, Brenda and Sue, (Charlotte Rampling Karen Young, Louise Portal), one of their young man, Legba, (locally cast Haitian non-actor Menothy Cesar) and the Haitian resort/restaurant manager, Albert (Haitian non-actor Lys Ambroise). The viewer learns in part where the women and Haitian patriot Albert are coming from in their confessional soliloquies, which they address to themselves and the audience. As for 18-year-old Legba, the film, as a whole, is his story. Each character is a believable archetype even to the child, Eddy, who imitates and emulates Legba and the other resort boys; he’s in training. None the less, he has a mind of his own.

Haitian born and raised Sherley Cooney identified with a very authentic character who had a brief yet important appearance in the film, Legba’s former Haitian girlfriend now forced-to-be mistress to a colonel. Cooney commented, “The Haitian reality was so real to me it gave me goose bumps.” She plans to see it a second time. The film is evocative, provoking, and reflects history and explores many Haitian realities.

How did this film come to be?

Director Laurent Cantet while visiting Haiti on a vacation in 2002 had no intent to make a film about Haiti. He was walking in Port-au-Prince and entered a bookshop and saw La Chair du Maitre by Dany Laferriere on a table, which he bought. “I had heard about Dany, but hadn't read any of his books,” he said. “I read the first two pages and knew that I was going to like it. The same night, I was flying back to Paris. I opened the book before taking off, and couldn't close it before landing in Paris the following morning.” He went to a bookshop close to his house and bought all the books he found.

Though the film is based on three short stories, the director was inspired by situations and feelings from the whole of Laferriere’s works.

It took two and a half months in Port-au-Prince to find the lead, non-actor Ménothy Cesar, who won the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 2005 Venice Film Festival for his performance. Llys Ambroise, playing Albert, is also from Port-au-Prince and was cast without previous acting experience. Most of the supporting actors are members of the Haitian community of Las Terrenas, the little town where the film was shot in the Samana area of the Dominican Republic.

“We were supposed to shoot in 2004, but it was the moment Aristide fled the country,” Cantet explains. The shooting was rescheduled and it took seven weeks, the majority of the film shot in the Dominican Republic; nine days were shot in Port-au-Prince.

Cantet adds, “Even one year later, it was difficult to convince the insurance company to insure the film (which explains why it wasn’t primarily shot in Haiti). Then, we had to adapt ourselves to the situation (in Haiti). Locations I had scouted during my long stay in Port-au-Prince were too dangerous and I had to find new locations, which sometimes changed two hours before shooting. The most interesting part of the work was precisely that: adapt the shooting to the reality.”

Cantet acknowledges what the actors brought to the film, “They know more things about the Haitian reality than I do, and I was interested by giving them the opportunity to change things with me. It was a real meeting between us, often more exciting than working with professional actors.” And successful, the film and the actors feel authentic.

Though the story is based on Laferriere’s writings, the author left the interpretation up to the director and provided consultation when needed. Writer Dany Laferriere also wrote the screenplay for the 2004 film On the Verge of a Fever, based on his book, Dining With the Dictator. He wrote How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, made into a movie in 1989, and wrote and directed the comedy, How to Conquer America (2004).

The director, Laurent Cantet, has also directed the films Human Resources and Time Out.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeannette Belliveau said...

I find the following comment in your blog odd -- the European woman who said she found the American women's search for sexual gratification "pathetic."

The movie Heading South reflects the reality that North American and European women alike (as well as Japanese, other Asian, and even some Latin American women) are seeking sexual gratification from foreign men. In fact, European women have been (by far) the trailblazers in this activity, since the late 1840s.

11:13 AM  
Blogger CoolP said...

Please note the original article on HaitiXchange can be found at the following link:

http://www.haitixchange.com/hx/article.asp?article_id=169

10:41 PM  

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