White Material

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Returning to the adopted home of her youth (and her 1988 debut, Chocolat), Claire Denis constructs a sideways indictment of colonialism via the story of a coffee-plantation owner (Isabelle Huppert) stuck in a politically volatile Cameroon. Rebels clash with the military, French expats flee the country in droves, and the center cannot hold. Huppert’s stolid, stiff-lipped businesswoman soldiers on, desperately (and futilely) holding on to the idea that such internal social strife will blow over; when she hides a wounded freedom fighter (Isaach De Bankol), however, the situation quickly escalates from simmering to full-on boiling. Neither as lyrically evocative as 35 Shots of Rum nor as cup-runneth-over cuckoo as The Intruder, Denis’s new drama feels slightly undercooked; you wish that Huppert’s character were fleshed out more, or that the director’s penchant for true bat-shit craziness were in full bloom. But the way she refuses to treat Africa as something other than mere exotica for the Euro set makes this an intriguing exercise. Denis still has poise to spare; she just needs to shape the material a little more. Friday, Oct 9 at 9:15pm; Saturday, Oct 10 at 6pm--DF

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New York Film Festival 2009

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