Fun in the Sun

Woman can be sex tourists, too

What do the World Bank and aging ladies of means have in common? Both pay the orchestra and call the tune. The problem is the recipients of their largesse end up hating themselves as well as loathing the hand that feeds them.

In the end, it’s all about self-respect. How many times have we heard and only half-believed that money can’t buy happiness? After 105 minutes of beach time with Charlotte Rampling and her friends, there is not doubt that being poor and decent is better than rolling in money with strings attached.

Ellen (Rampling), Brenda (Karen Young), and Sue (Louise Portal) are North Americans of a certain age who have come to Baby Doc Duvalier’s Haiti for sun and fun. They install themselves in a rustic resort by the sea, spending lazy days on the beach sun-bathing, chatting, drinking concoctions with little umbrellas stuck in them, and frolicking with the local men. Led by Ellen, who fancies herself the Den Mother of the trio, the women forget the humdrum lives they lead in the U.S. and Canada, returning year after year to the same resort for the special kind of therapy that only men one-third their age can give them. Their creed is spelled out neatly in the words of Francoise Sagan who said, “When I’m old, I’ll pay young people to love me. Because of all things, love is the sweetest, the most alive, and the most sensible. No matter what the price.”

Under the watchful eye of Ellen, days and nights unfold, both sybaritic and sensible. With most of their lives already behind them, their life experiences as numerous as the wrinkles in their weathered faces, these worldly ladies have found the perfect formula for mature female happiness of a sort. Over candle-lit dinners by the sea, her mouth full of rib-eye steak as she doles out pearls of wisdom for keeping the natives happy and their feminine libidos satisfied, Ellen lays down several golden rules—don’t fall in love, don’t monopolize the young male talent, if you don’t feel comfortable giving them cash, give them gifts, and, above all, don’t bring a young swain into the dining room. It just isn’t allowed. Sort of reminiscent of that old Victorian saw about proper behavior and not going against social convention—“you can do anything you like as long as you’re not rude to the servants and don’t frighten the horses.”

They think they have it all figured out, but these women are only fooling themselves. Far from fitting in and being liked by the locals, they make a grotesquerie out of an impoverished Haitian society that clings to a few shreds of human decency—all that remains in a land pillaged morally and economically by 50 years of Duvalier madness and cruelty. This surfside house of cards is about to be blown away.

Enter Legba (Menothy Cesar). His youthful beauty and winning personality make him the ladies’ favorite and in spite of their established convention for “sharing,” they begin to squabble over the attentions of this 19 year-old charmer. Brenda, the youngest and the giddiest of the lot, makes the fatal mistake of falling in love. She throws herself at Legba whose gracious manners and natural kindness she mistakes for reciprocal love. A humiliating scene unfolds when she brings him into the dining room and creates a ruckus, insisting that he be served a meal. It ends in total disaster as Legba slinks away from a half-eaten dinner he is very hungry for. But not before being told by the over-bearing Ellen that he looks cheap in the flashy new shirt Brenda has given him.

The Haitians may be very poor, but even beggars have their pride. Sadly, these post-menopausal memsahibs are blinded by their terminal hot flashes, oblivious to what is developing around them. In a frightful outburst of selfish mothering—or is it grandmothering—Ellen marches Legba into the restaurant kitchen, ordering the employees to get out so she can have the place to herself to deliver a tired tirade to the poor, pawed-over boy, who at this point has a Ton Ton Macoute colonel after him for wooing the interest of his mistress. Ellen shouts in Legba’s face that she will get him a passport. He stares at her with dead eyes realizing the impasse his life has reached.

The next day his body is found on the beach in plain view of the resort. He is loaded onto a stretcher and covered with a sheet, that simple act of dignity demanded by death. The hysterical Brenda will have none of it. Robbing the dead boy of his final rest, she climbs into the ambulance, pulls back the sheet, and plants a full mouth kiss on his cold lips. This is beyond obscene. As the film fades out, we see Brenda on board a boat, the beach receding in the background. With the wind blowing her hair, she mumbles through balmy zephyrs about other islands to visit and things to see; and presumably, other men to meet.

Talk about a short memory!

The acting is first-rate all around. Cesar, winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 2005 Venice Film Festival, gives an especially memorable performance, which conveys the horrible dilemma of entrapment facing poor Third-World youth. The movie is shot in what seems like slightly over-exposed home movie film giving it an atmospheric of spare intimacy.

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