Emotionally complicated and deeply compassionate, Heading South, by the French director Laurent Cantet, approaches a delicate subject—sex tourism in Haiti in the late 1970s—with a mixture of frankness and tenderness. The frankness is in the treatment of the sexual relationships that the middle-aged women (mostly from the U.S. and Canada) form with the young men they meet on the beaches of Port-au-Prince. The tenderness is in the depiction of the two female protagonists.
Cantet and co-writer Robin Campillo don’t pass judgment on the women, who delude themselves into thinking that they’ve found romance. Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a French teacher at Wellesley, affects a woman-of-the-world brittleness yet tries to convince her paramour, Legba (Ménothy Cesar), to go to the States with her. The naive Brenda (Karen Young), a Savannah divorcée, has returned to Haiti after three years in hopes of taking up with Legba again.