CERT 15 105 MINS ENGLISH/SUBTITLES ***
The time is late 70s Haiti, poverty is everywhere, Baby Doc Duvalier and his thugs rule by fear and murder, and holidaying women are soaking up the sun at a beachside hotel and indulging their sexual frustrations in the lithe bodies and sensual pleasures of the local youthful gigolos, fooling themselves they've found romance and perhaps even love.
The main attraction is Legba (Menothy Cesar), a handsome ebony skinned 18-year-old whom French professor and resort doyenne Ellen (Charlotte Rampling) regards as her personal room service. Canadian Sue (Louise Portal) has her own beach toy boy and offers no threat, but then along comes fortysome-thing recent divorcee Brenda (Karen Young) who, three years ago, experienced her first orgasm at Legba's hands and has returned to repeat the experience.
Inevitably, given the erotic, economic and political climate, tragedy will eventually rear its head.
Punctuating the narrative with a telling monologue by each of the women and a fourth from the hotel's wise aged native maitre d', the film's undeniably stylishly crafted and well acted, Rampling and Young both adept at signalling their characters' vulnerabilities, insecurities and selfishly manipulative tendencies.
But, director Laurent Cantet's attempt to weave a neo-colonialist metaphor about Third World exploitation and commoditisation stumbles awkwardly with a gratuitous chase scene to inject some action and the contrived third act ramifications of the women's tug of war.
More fatally though, it not only remains at an emotional distance but, by refusing to give Legba a voice of his own renders him an obscure object of desire, skewing the film less towards Claire Denis' sociopolitically similar Chocolat and more akin to the sexually-heated melodramatics of Night of the Iguana.