White Material (15)

Film

War films

White_material_(6).jpg

Time Out rating:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>4</span>/5

User ratings:

<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>5</span>/5
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Time Out says

Tue Jun 29 2010

One of a handful of great artists working in French cinema today, Claire Denis returns to Africa for the first time since ‘Beau Travail’ for a mesmerising portrait of civil war, racial tension and one woman’s resistance to change in an unnamed, French-speaking African country. Isabelle Huppert lends her poetic resolve and earthy beauty to Maria, a woman trying to squeeze one last week out of her dilapidated coffee plantation even as her workers drift away and the possibility of violence or death becomes increasingly likely.

The film opens with unplaceable scenes of fire and death before we see Maria ignoring the pleas of a French army helicopter for her to leave. Her staff are abandoning her, but Maria’s response is to recruit new help. She forces her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) to leave his bed and argues her corner with her louche ex-husband André (Christopher Lambert), who, like her sick father-in-law, Henri (Michel Subor, physically channelling the rot of his character’s position), lives in the same area. Old friends become new enemies, and trust drains from the community in the same way that blood seeps from the wounds of a rebel soldier called The Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), who is hiding in the lush countryside.

It’s a war film – but it’s a war film by Claire Denis, which means that a feeling of unease replaces any sense of clarity on our part towards what we’re seeing. This means there’s a complexity and unknowability to all her characters, and above all to Maria, so we’re never able fully to judge or understand them. What arises from the film’s damp, steamy chaos is a sense of war as a creeping, unnatural force, a growing disease rather than an event. Of the film’s many startling images, the sight of young soldiers, dressed in green, emerging from foliage to the sound of Denis favourite Stuart Staples’s music, suggests nothing other than an emerging virus.

Our challenge is to consider if, or why, Maria should continue to fight her corner – a question which Denis asks us to answer purely in human terms by keeping the political and personal framework of her story hazy. Neither a heroine nor a fool, Denis’s Maria is a mirror to a world where the colour of one’s skin is a silent issue in times of peace but a reminder of real divisions in times of war. That’s what the title hints at: we hear a kid call a fancy lighter he finds ‘white material’, but it’s also used as a term of derision on the rebels’ radio broadcasts which Denis includes as a rooting device akin to voiceover.

Underlying the film, one feels there’s a great deal of subtle self-reflection by Denis, a woman who grew up in Africa, white, like Maria, in a black land. The film is not autobiography or memoir, but its themes are very personal to her and there are the odd, startling moments when Huppert, fragile in stature but tough in spirit, with flashes of unkempt hair, looks a bit like Denis – moments as haunting as the film itself.
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Release details

Rated:

15

UK release:

Fri Jul 2, 2010

Duration:

100 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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Mary Jane Glauber

Powerful and thought provoking movie that engages the audience to think not only about the movie, but human nature and our own potential dark side and capability to slide so easily into a civil war ourselves no matter where we live. How quickly and easily it was to make the other seem like a lesser being so that anything could be done to them. And yet, we are all capable of doing this to rationalize why we might be entitled to take things from those "others."

Mary Jane Glauber

Powerful and thought provoking movie that engages the audience to think not only about the movie, but human nature and our own potential dark side and capability to slide so easily into a civil war ourselves no matter where we live. How quickly and easily it was to make the other seem like a lesser being so that anything could be done to them. And yet, we are all capable of doing this to rationalize why we might be entitled to take things from those "others."

Walter Wells

Though not heart-warming, this is certainly one of the decade's major films. An engrossing parable of feminine determination, of race, of Africa, of civil war, of a pervasive human darkness. Huppert is powerful as the complex Maria, dominating almost every moment of the film, which makes not a single false step.

Walter Wells

Though not heart-warming, this is certainly one of the decade's major films. An engrossing parable of feminine determination, of race, of Africa, of civil war, of a pervasive human darkness. Huppert is powerful as the complex Maria, dominating almost every moment of the film, which makes not a single false step.