But down at the beach, things are beautiful. The upscale resort at which most of the film takes place is popular with women of a certain age who come alone not just for the weather but for the attention of the local beach boys who wander around, strike up flirtations, and provide sexual favors in exchange for gifts.
The Queen Bee of these ladies is 55-year-old Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a Wellesley professor who has spent the entire summer at the hotel for several years and has a special fondness for one young local named Legba (Ménothy Cesar). Her closest friend is Sue (Louise Portal), a roly-poly Canadian who marvels that the boys find her attractive, even though she knows it's all about the money.
Into the mix comes Brenda (Karen Young), a mildly depressed American housewife who makes a return trip to the resort in search of the sexual satisfaction she found three years earlier with Legba. In a rather lurid soliloquy, she describes achieving her first orgasm at the age of 45 in a late-night roll in the sand with Legba. Now she wants to do it again.
But Legba is Ellen's guy... or is he? The rule of the beach seems to be that whatever happens happens, and no one belongs to anyone. Yet Ellen's jealousy simmers as Brenda seeks Legba's attention. All the women are amused by the fact that while they'd never give a black man a second look back home, here on the beach they find them utterly irresistible. Why is that? Perhaps, Brenda posits in a moment of blithe racism, because they're "closer to nature." Or perhaps it's just because they're "gracious."
The movie takes brief and scary trips out of the resort and into the nearby town, where we get to see ominous black Mercedes sedans racing around while thugs, most of whom are cops or government officials, wave handguns and terrorize the townspeople. At one point, Legba has a sad reunion with an ex-girlfriend who has decided to prostitute herself to a local official as a possible leg up out of poverty.
As usual, Rampling is luminous and compelling, an actress who gets more beautiful with age (why is this more true of European actresses than Americans?). She goes from engaging to icy in the blink of the eye. And Young, who many will recognize as an FBI agent on The Sopranos, makes Brenda's low self-esteem and sexual torment totally believable. These are two great character studies that you won't soon forget. It's an intense experience. Heading South is no day at the beach.
Aka Vers le sud.
Something else is heading north.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 25th January 2006
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Distributed by: Shadow Distribution
Production compaines: Haut et Court
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 57 Rotten: 25
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Laurent Cantet
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