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Director Laurent Cantet's fourth feature abandons the contentious French workplaces of HUMAN RESOURCES and TIME OUT for sunnier climes, but this Haitian idyll is an equally excoriating look at labor and exploitation. Haiti, the late 1970s: three years after sneaking away from her husband and achieving her first orgasm with 15-year-old local Legba (Menothy...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Director Laurent Cantet's fourth feature abandons the contentious French workplaces of HUMAN RESOURCES and TIME OUT for sunnier climes, but this Haitian idyll is an equally excoriating look at labor and exploitation. Haiti, the late 1970s: three years after sneaking away from her husband and achieving her first orgasm with 15-year-old local Legba (Menothy Cesar), 47-year-old Tennessee native Brenda (The Sopranos' Karen Young) returns to the Hotel Petite Anse as a divorcee, ready to pick up where she left off. But Brenda is surprised to find that Legba has become a fixture of sorts at the resort, one of the favored gigolos who cater to lonely women of a certain age, who vacation in island "paradises" where poverty means a steady supply of young men willing to trade sex for money or gifts. Legba, it turns out, has been claimed by gregarious but catty Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a 55-year-old professor of French literature at Wellesley College, who's been coming to the hotel for years. Sensing Brenda's discomfort with what amounts to prostitution, but initially unaware that she's already had sex with Legba, Helen encourages her to take advantage of a situation that appears, on the surface, to be mutually beneficial. The men spend their afternoons amusing the women on the beach, fed from the hotel menu — though dignified and quietly disgusted maitre d'hotel Albert (Lys Ambroise) refuses to seat them in the dining room — and often spend their nights in their clients' comfortable cabanas. For their part, these women, who've aged out of the dating pool at home, seem to form fairly deep emotional attachments to the men, though Ellen would never allow herself to admit any such thing — even as her jealousy over Brenda's lust for Legba threatens to destroy more than her vacation. Their rivalry nearly tips the film into lurid Tennessee Williams territory, but Cantet and cowriter Robin Campillo, who adapted the screenplay from three short stories by Haitian writer Dany Laferriere, develop a key subplot involving Legba and an old flame (Anotte Saint Ford) from the slums of Port au Prince, a young beauty who's become the courtesan of one of Baby Doc's powerful and corrupt colonels. "The flowers and gifts are a machine gun at your neck," she tells Legba, and if the specifics of her sexual servitude seem to contrast sharply with Legba's, it's hard not to feel that deep down, they're essentially the same.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Director Laurent Cantet's fourth feature abandons the contentious French workplaces of HUMAN RESOURCES and TIME OUT for sunnier climes, but this Haitian idyll is an equally excoriating look at labor and exploitation. Haiti, the late 1970s: three years afte… (more)

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