White Material (2010)
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 coffee plantation in an unnamed African country. Torn violently apart by hate-fueled civil conflict, this unforgiving setting soon turns against the foreign family, declaring them outlaws in their new home. In a brash effort to save her family and livelihood, Maria risks everything, fighting with every shred of her will to buck the rebel forces wrestling for control of local power. -- (C) IFC … More
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Critic Reviews for White Material
A maddening movie that gives the viewer plenty to think about, but little to care about.
White Material is unhurried in its storytelling but unshakable in its impact.
A thoughtful, if sometimes frustrating, tale of a Frenchwoman caught in the middle of a civil war in an unidentified African country.
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.
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.
This haunting drama by Claire Denis burns with a mute fear and rage at the ongoing atrocities in central Africa.
Unsentimental, brutal, and beautiful, (the film) is a harrowing experience.
a difficult film, and one that sticks with you, pestering you with its unresolved tensions
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.
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.
Claire Denis' harrowing "White Material" centers on a family that feels inextricably bound to a country that does not want them anymore.
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.
Some will find White Material's puzzlements evocative. Others -- including yours truly -- will leave irritated and unfulfilled.
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.
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.
...an 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.
...the film is as mesmerizing to watch as it is hopeless to draw deeper meaning from.
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 starsMore
a powerful performance by isabelle huppert and an atmosphere of palpable dread in the dark heart of post colonial africaMore
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.More
"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.
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