We are in Haiti during the late 1970’s, under the brutal dictatorship of Pap Doc Duvalier. At a beach resort, we meet three middle-aged women engaged in what amounts to sex tourism. Charlotte Rampling is Ellen, an imperious ex-pat British professor; Karen Young is Brenda, a psychologically fragile American divorcee; and Louise Portal is Sue, an earthy warehouse manager from Montreal. Disillusioned by their romantic prospects back home, they revel in the (paid) sexual attentions of handsome young Haitians, most notably Legba (Ménothy César), with whom both Rampling and Young are in love.
Director/co-writer Laurent Cantet observes his leading ladies with an eye that, while caustic, avoids easy judgments. He does not in any way let them off the hook for what amounts to a new form of predatory colonialism, and we see them engage in activities they would never consider in their home countries. So, for instance, we learn that Brenda had her first sexual encounter with Legba three years ago, when he was 15, and we see her being tempted to take advantage of a boy who can’t be a day over 12 (something Legba witness, and nips in the bud). But neither does Cantet engage in easy condemnation. He makes all of his characters fully developed human beings, and encourages us to understand these women, even if we do not sympathise. The film is not an unqualified success, however. Once the characters and the setting have been established, the film tends to meander, taking too long to tell us not much more than we knew at the start.
The dialogue is primarily French and English, and the sound comes in both 5.1 and 2.0 versions. The sound, in keeping with the mood of the film, is low key, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some very nice environmental effects. This is particularly true of the wind, which is so convincingly rendered you’ll be checking for drafts. It fills the room in a quietly ominous fashion, an atmospheric foreshadowing of the story’s inevitable tragedy.
The colours are fine, particularly in the daylight beach sequences. They are naturalistic, but a touch bland. The image is a bit soft, and grain is visible (every now and then, there’s a half-second flash of very bad grain). So the picture is as low key as the sound and the story, but could have been crisper than it is.
Nothing here but a couple of trailers.
The fairly significant political and moral charge of the film make one wish for some kind of commentary. Worth seeing, though, if only for the discussions the film will surely generate.
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