White Material - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

White Material Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ October 21, 2015
A thought-provoking political commentary in which Denis sets out to examine the white colonialist abuse and its consequences in a French-speaking African country, but it also feels not very well finished, especially when it comes to Manuel's erratic (in the end puzzling) actions.
½ September 12, 2015
mezmerizing. hupert is superb. and some scenes.... are just hard to erase from memory.
July 28, 2015
Loosely based on the story of Doris Lessing's novel, "White Material" is without question, Clair Denis' most personal film yet.

Isabelle Huppert gives another in a string of amazing performances as a determined woman who married into a wealthy white French family who runs a highly profitable African coffee plant. It is clear that since her former Father-in-law has sunk into a sort of drunken retirement, it has been her blood, sweat and tears that has kept the plantation and mill working. Long divorced from her husband, she seems to have largely raised their clearly somehow damaged son and is now more involved with her ex-husband's new wife and child than she really cares to be --- all of the challenges of her daily life take a back seat when the family's coffee plantation is threatened by an African Civil War and racial conflict.

Denis does not hold your hand. Much is never clearly explained. Luckily she has Huppert who can convey more with a glance or slight movement than most actors can achieve with a page of dialogue. We come to understand that Huppert's "Maria" is fighting her own internal struggle with sympathy for the revolution going on around her, but she is determined to get one last last coffee season completed. It almost seems as if her determination is fueled by her frustrations with this family and its stupidity in the way it has handled relations with the African natives of the land.

When her confused son allows a controversial African "Hero" who stands in opposition to this current regime attempting revolution a hiding place in their sprawling cave of a home -- challenges take on a far more dangerous level of risk -- not just for the family business but for the family itself.

As the hate-fueled rebellion gains rage and vengeance, the family is placed under "house arrest" and no one is willing to help Maria save her crop.

The last quarter of this film is so very important that I hesitate to write much more. Suffice to say that Claire Denis uses this familial and simultaneous civil war as reminders of the depths of human cruelty can take in the form of "ideals" and "control" -- In the end our protagonist comes face to face with Evil Face of Racism and the result is as surprising as it is devastating.

Claire Denis may not offer much in the way of explanation as she really doesn't need to do, but she holds nothing back in this visceral and disturbingly violent film. This is a world where "race" is really not the true motivation. "Children" are no more valuable than the money and righteousness that power can provide. Weapons are in the wrong hands -- sometimes too small to even hold them. And "innocence" and "evil intent" are meaningless in a coup bent on power.

Like Maria, we are left struggling to understand the enormity of what has just happened and continues to happen. This is a blunt and brutal cerebral gut punch of a film.

Be warned: This film is quite violent. Not for the feint of heart. However, if you think you can handle it -- Claire Denis has a great deal to say here -- And Isabelle Huppert gives one of her strongest film performances of her already breath-taking career. Cinematic Masterpiece.
June 26, 2015
No one makes films like Claire Denis. Watching her work is like discovering cinema all over again -- baffling, beautiful, indescribable. Its hard to wrap one's head around a film like this because it is so different than what we normally see in movies. And not in a superficial way. This is narrative arthouse cinema, but the way Denis tells the tale, the way the editing functions, the implications of the images and the nuance of its style -- all are vastly revolutionary innovations for the artform.

I'm probably underrating this a bit, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.
½ June 9, 2015
The film was inspired by Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing but the story was significantly reworked by Denis to incorporate contemporary events. The storyline is jagged because the film has been oddly edited by Denis for flashback effect; unfortunately the audience does not see the interrelationships that Denis expected us to see.
Super Reviewer
April 29, 2015
Is in a list of "great but under-rated movies I should see" (Apr2015 article)
April 28, 2015
Definitely an IFC film which leaves you asking WHY oh WHY? Braquo's Nicolas Duvauchelle makes an appearance as the "sluggish" son who just went nuts. And Christopher Lambert speaks French. Is about it for me.
April 24, 2015
Director Claire Denis paints an empty landscape. While painfully obvious the Vial family doesn't belong here, we aren't really sure why, or even where "here" is. The answers most certainly are not to be found in the vacant stares of the caricatured indigenous under-class.

If you have something to say, say it! The age of the angry African metaphor has passed.

For something definitive, you might want to see Kim Nguyen's 2012 "Rebelle " (War Witch - 2012) or even the "rubber plantation" sequence from Coppola's extended masterpiece "Apocalypse Now Redux" (2001).
November 3, 2014
If my library ever gets "Beau Travail" I am surely going to be watching that one.
September 19, 2014
I keep asking myself why Maria Vial stays. Is it the coffee? Is it her love for the country? Is it so she can feel like she's fighting for something?

Then I think that maybe because I can't put my finger on it--that's why I love this film. Because there isn't just one thing that holds her back. People are more complicated than one thing.
September 7, 2014
A brilliant film form every vantage point. A must see.
May 1, 2014
Not gonna remember this long
½ March 4, 2014
I was really into the way this film was shot and edited. The acting is also amazing but thats to be expected when the cast is headed up by Isabelle Huppert. Her performance coupled with Denis's direction is pretty enticing, but the story itself just doesn't give you much to care about. I liked it more than I didn't but it wasn't nearly as compelling as I would have hoped.
½ March 1, 2014
Hey, I signed up to watch Isabelle Huppert struggle against the odds as her family's farm crumbles in Africa, and that's what I got. But does so much of the movie have to be her silently walking across beautiful backgrounds? This is the case of a movie begging for a book adaptation.
½ October 29, 2013
Claire Denis captures some shocking images of war-time atrocities in this film, but it's undermined by the film's scattered plot, and lack of substantial character development.
½ September 22, 2013
The cinematography is orgasmic.
May 22, 2013
J. Hoberman used the word "lysergic" in his review and that's pretty apt because the Tindersticks soundtrack, used sparingly, does provide a hazy druggy sheen to parts of the movie. Isabelle Huppert is determined to ignore the trouble that is all around her as the colonial era comes to a decided end in her part of Africa. Claire Denis's film unblinkingly covers the terrain: both rebels and the military armed and dangerous along with child soldiers seemingly in their own militia and perhaps much more dangerous. The social and psychological effects of white settlement (and ownership -- Huppert runs a coffee plantation) in Africa are the focus -- the unnamed country is divided by their feelings toward the outsiders (even those born there). Denis, also born and raised in Africa, provides impressions, images, something of a story, to show the legacy of (French) involvement and exploitation. Shot in Cameroon, this is a beautiful horrifying and unresolved film.
½ May 15, 2013
Claire Denis nos entrega este denso drama, en el cual una mujer blanca en un pais sin identificar de Africa debe tomar una fuerte decision frente a la inminente guerra civil: o abandona el pais perdiendo sus plantaciones de cafe, o se queda y expone su vida y la de sus familias. La tension se siente desde el primer momento, sin embargo, algunas situaciones se ven demasiado dise˝adas para hacer mas interesante la trama. Creo que por ello los "expertos" le ponen un 88% y el publico solo un 60. En el fondo, es una pelicula que no se entiende mucho, pues mucho insinua pero poco resuelve.
April 28, 2013
Dette uforglemmelige drama af Claire Denis brŠnder igennem og giver seeren en f°lelse af frygt og raseri omkring de grusomheder, der sker i det centrale Afrika.
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