‘Welcome to Paradise,’ says Ellen to Brenda – the sandy, palm-lined Haitian coast is a welcome summer respite from Boston and her teaching job. It’s clean, tranquil and very beautiful – and the local guys are cute, amenable and a dime a dozen. If you’re embarrassed about paying them, she says, just buy them things. Brenda is shocked; Ellen, confident and commanding, is straight out. 1970s Boston can only offer her losers and men cheating on their wives. These young men are handsome, grateful and, as Brenda says, gracious.
Ellen is crazy about love. Or sex and love, as she says – she no longer knows if there’s a difference. That’s why she’s there. And why many other European and North American women in their forties and fifties are there. Canadian Sue says everything is different, and everyone is better. She feels like a butterfly, alive and free, yet she thinks she’s in love, really in love, with Neptune.
Brenda, too, falls in love, badly in love, with Legba. But of course Papa Doc’s Haiti isn’t paradise. Sue and Brenda know little about it, or about the lives of Neptune and Legba away from the beach. Yet, just as the dollar buys control and creates dependencies at the beach, so it does throughout the island, and as nonchalantly. And those who don’t play along, don’t walk away.
Although his script could have done with some tightening, Cantet avoids the clichés of landscape and anatomy. This is a fine ensemble film, with Charlotte Rampling and Lys Ambroise Eddy outstanding, and, like Time Out, Cantet’s last effort, this is a very convincing portrayal of people out of place, whose lives don’t meet their needs.