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White Material (2009)



Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 22
Fresh: 20 | Rotten: 2

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 10,838

My Rating

Movie Info

From Claire Denis, the incomparable director of BEAU TRAVAIL, L'INTRUS and 35 SHOTS OF RHUM, comes WHITE MATERIAL: a rich and thrilling account of a woman driven to the edge. An official selection of the Venice, Toronto and New York Film Festivals, the film is a riveting exploration of the complexities of racial conflict and the limits of human will. The legendary Isabelle Huppert (LA CEREMONIE, THE PIANO TEACHER, 8 WOMEN), is Maria Vial, a fearless French woman attempting to run her family's


Art House & International, Drama

Apr 12, 2011


IFC Films - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (83) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (71) | Rotten (10) | DVD (3)

A maddening movie that gives the viewer plenty to think about, but little to care about.

April 14, 2011 Full Review Source:
Top Critic IconTop Critic

White Material is unhurried in its storytelling but unshakable in its impact.

January 31, 2011 Full Review Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A thoughtful, if sometimes frustrating, tale of a Frenchwoman caught in the middle of a civil war in an unidentified African country.

January 14, 2011
Dallas Morning News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A poignant, haunting study of well-intentioned but doomed folly, embodied by a heroine whose bravery renders her blind to the world that is crumbling around her.

January 6, 2011 Full Review Source: Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's one of those movies where questions like "Why didn't they do that?" or "Wait, what's their relationship?" keep popping up. And for the most part, those questions never get answered.

December 17, 2010 Full Review Source: Detroit News | Comments (2)
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This haunting drama by Claire Denis burns with a mute fear and rage at the ongoing atrocities in central Africa.

December 17, 2010 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Unsentimental, brutal, and beautiful, (the film) is a harrowing experience.

May 16, 2011 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

a difficult film, and one that sticks with you, pestering you with its unresolved tensions

April 30, 2011 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Director Claire Denis is known for her vivid snapshots of contemporary culture and White Material is shot with an immediacy that's hard to ignore.

April 11, 2011 Full Review Source:

If you think you're going to get a simple anti-imperialism message from French director Claire Denis, you've got about seven other things coming. Her movies defy expectations all the way down the line.

April 4, 2011 Full Review Source:

Claire Denis' harrowing "White Material" centers on a family that feels inextricably bound to a country that does not want them anymore.

March 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

The ending is a cop-out, and the viewer is left unfulfilled. The main reason to buy a ticket is for Huppert's mesmerizing performance. She is one of France's greatest actresses.

March 11, 2011 Full Review Source: Entertainment Spectrum
Entertainment Spectrum

Some will find White Material's puzzlements evocative. Others -- including yours truly -- will leave irritated and unfulfilled.

March 11, 2011 Full Review Source: Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star

Vial is presented as a complex character who feels she's been backed against a wall, and on the one hand we can see where she's coming from, but on the other hand we might think she's just nuts.

March 4, 2011 Full Review Source: Window to the Movies
Window to the Movies

While we get the idea Denis knows what she's doing with the metaphor of racial recompense in her movie, whether or not she "gets" the idea of fleshy, full-bodied characters grounded in a sense of viewer compassion is still up in the air.

January 17, 2011 Full Review Source: Frank's Reel Reviews
Frank's Reel Reviews unsettling, harrowing look at the self-delusion of a colonialist who's convinced that she has become fully integrated into the country - and the family - she's occupied.

January 16, 2011 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A powerful commentary on the heart of darkness.

January 13, 2011 Full Review Source: One Guy's Opinion
One Guy's Opinion

...the film is as mesmerizing to watch as it is hopeless to draw deeper meaning from.

December 17, 2010 Full Review Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

It's challenging and it will make you think.

December 17, 2010 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Audience Reviews for White Material

Another great film put out by IFC films about a French women who will not give up, Isabelle Huppert plays the part of a coffee plantation owner in a African country trying to get the coffee crop in before it ruins. Trouble within the country between the Rebels and the military over running the country is now a prime factor that the French military has pulled out. Her number one problem is she is White (White Material as know to the Blacks), her second problem is her worthless husband. The cast of this film is that of Actors from outside the US which IFC is famous for and helps add to the overall enjoyment of this film. An outstanding film that deals with the facts of today. 4 1/2 stars
January 30, 2012
Bruce Bruce

Super Reviewer

a powerful performance by isabelle huppert and an atmosphere of palpable dread in the dark heart of post colonial africa
April 21, 2011
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

Creates a suitably menacing atmosphere around the remaining white settlers in a war ravaged african country about to implode but suffers from a slightly plodding execution.
December 12, 2010
Gordon A

Super Reviewer

"White Material," the new film from Claire Denis starring Isabelle Huppert, is ambitious and intelligent, but it is also slack at times, inducing yawns one too many times. Ms. Denis's sense of editing is not superb here. The screenplay also doesn't dig that deeply into its characters. Fascinating issues are raised but in a sketchy fashion. Ms. Denis stands at some distance from her characters, seeming to look at them from afar rather than in close-up. The actors also at times seem puzzled by their characters, which can be quite annoying.

"White Material" tells the story of a woman of French descent (Huppert) struggling to hold onto her coffee plantation in Africa during a time of social unrest and armed rebellion. At times, the rebellion seems driven by lingering hostility toward European colonials and the African elites that supported them. At other times, it seems propelled by a rage for vandalism with no ideology whatsoever behind it. An army of hungry orphans comes together and roams the countryside almost indiscriminately terrorizing those they encounter.

A rebel leader (played by Isaach de Bankole, who also appeared in Denis's first film, "Chocolat," from 1988) gets separated from his troops and wanders through the outback alone, becoming the subject of much mythical storytelling like a latter-day Che Guevara. But he doesn't have much of a role in the film. It almost seemed that Denis wanted to give Bankole a role and threw his character together haphazardly. He appears here and there throughout the film in a rather pointless fashion.

But the rebellion is not the focus of the film. Most screen time is devoted to the plantation owner (Huppert) and her family, and they are surprisingly strange. You've never seen the descendants of European colonials depicted like this. Part of Denis's objective seems to be a critique of the whole enterprise of colonialism and its lingering after-effects. The disease of colonialism, she suggests, claimed victims all around, not just the locals. The colonial perpetrators themselves were warped by it as well, and their descendants many generations later are still suffering from many of those perversions and distortions.

Huppert's character power-walks around the countryside as if she's the queen. When the social situation gets dangerous, she seems blithely oblivious, as if the locals never even enter her consciousness. She is so used to being in a privileged social position that her mind can't even conceive of anyone hurting her or her family. Her blitheness initially comes across as courageous but gradually appears delusional. When Denis introduces us to the lady's family, we see more examples of how the descendants of colonialists have lost their bearings.

The film ends with an explosion of violence that is at times horrifying, much of it chaotic and inexplicable. There are so many layers of bitterness and hostility that you cannot keep track of who is angry at whom. When law and order break down, you get a bizarre cauldron of anti-social rage. At times, Denis depicts this trenchantly and effectively. Other times, it seems like sloppy filmmaking. When Huppert violently turns on a member of her own family, the film particularly comes off the rails.

But there is much to appreciate here. "White Material" is flawed, but it probes some fascinating issues that almost no other filmmakers ever explore. It also is gorgeously filmed. There's also the majestic screen presence of Huppert, one of the best actresses in cinema today.
November 25, 2010
Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

    1. Maria Vial: I just need one week or the crop will be ruined.
    – Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)
    1. Maria Vial: It is safe. I have had no trouble.
    – Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)
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