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What happens when the place you consider home rejects you?
PoppyTransfusion4 September 2011
The setting for the film is a West African, French-speaking country riven by civil unrest and fighting between the army and rebels who consist of children, many orphaned. The rebels' icon and unofficial leader is a former soldier known as The Boxer (a cameo from Isaach de Bankole). Directed by Clare Denis she presents the country's unravelling situation and uses a non-linear narrative to loop back and forth within the 48-hour period that is the story's time frame.

Amidst the mayhem we are slowly introduced to the owners of a coffee plantation, who are a white family of French origins: Maria Vial (Huppert), her ex-husband Andre (Lambert), their son Manuel and his grandfather Bernard. Living with the family is Andre's second wife/partner Lucie and their son Jose. At the point we meet the family they are 5 days from coffee harvest and their workers are fleeing the plantation afraid for their lives. They leave to return home because 'coffee is just coffee and not worth dying for'. Maria does not feel the same way and recruits some replacement workers to ensure a successful harvest. Meanwhile Andre, who shares the workers' fears, is plotting the family's escape which means selling the plantation to the local mayor who will ensure their safe passage out of the country. This is kept from Maria who has vowed never to leave.

As events unfold it is obvious to everyone around Maria that the situation is becoming less stable and increasingly precarious. She refuses to see or acknowledge this. Interspersed throughout we hear a DJ allied to the rebels, used as a sort of narrator, playing reggae and making pronouncements against the existing government and white people, who are the 'white material' of the title.

The film's narrative and characters make it difficult for the viewer to apprehend what is happening immediately and/or to like/relate to the characters easily. This is part of its success: the situation and people we are presented with are complex. Although of French origin and white we learn that Bernard and Manuel were both born in the country making them citizens. Maria has left France and never wants to return; she herself despises the white French people ('these dirty whites ... they don't deserve this beautiful land') and clearly does not perceive herself to be one even though the rebels and army see her as one such 'dirty white' who makes the country 'filthy'. Throughout is woven the theme of where is home and what it means to feel you belong and rooted in a situation where others label you an outsider.

Maria is a tough fighter but lacks sensitivity and does not seem to realise, or wish to see, how she is perceived. We witness the tragic consequences of this to her, her family and the people who work with her as the film works to its conclusion.

The film is beautifully shot with an atmospheric soundtrack provided by Tindersticks. The colours, the heat, the expanse are well evoked and make you realise why Maria loves it so she is prepared to risk her life and those close to her. There is spare use of dialogue and Huppert excels at the role of Maria, a difficult woman of few words. This is the sort of film that benefits from more than one watch as Denis packs in characters and events all of which add to the texture of the film and its politics.
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Back to Africa
Chris Knipp29 September 2009
Denis returns to Afriaca -- an undefined country there -- to explore colonialism and revolution in this film that has more in common with her wonderfully mysterious 'The Intruder' (2004) -- though it's less successful -- than with her warm-hearted family story '35 Shots of Rum' (2008).

At the center here too is a family, the Vials, French colonial types who own a coffee plantation, or did own one. And at the center of this family is the scrawny, determined Maria (Isabelle Huppert), as brave as she is heedless. Everything is falling apart, but she simply won't give up -- or even acknowledge that there's any danger.

But here, as in various African countries, government forces are at war with rebels and schools are closing and children are turning into dangerous, thrill-seeking warriors popping pills and wielding pistols, machetes, and spears. The plantation workers are fleeing just at harvest time, and the Vials themselves are warned by a helicopter flying overhead that it's time to get out. The rebel army's missing leader, known as "the boxer" (Isaach de Bankolé of Jarmusch's 'Limits of Control' and of Denis' original Africa film 'Chocolat') has reappeared, wounded, hiding out in the plantation, which makes it a double target.

The family itself seems to have fallen apart some time ago, though as usual in Denis' films, the relationships and family histories aren't meant to be immediately clear. Maria's ex-father-in-law, Henri (Michel Subor of 'The Intruder') is mysteriously sick; he seems to know more than the others, but he is powerless; he reigns over nothing -- except that he is the real owner of the plantation. Maria's ex-husband André Vial (Christophe Lambert) has a son by a new young black wife, Lucie (Adele Ado). Maria and André have an older son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who has turned into a sluggard, and seems deranged. Later after being attacked and humiliated by two black boys (they rob him naked and cut off a lock of his blond hair), he shaves off the rest of his hair, takes a rifle and his mother's motorcycle, and becomes a wild rebel himself.

Meanwhile André has made a deal with the wily black mayor (William Nadylam), presumably to get money to escape, and the mayor now owns the plantation, and feels whatever happens he'll be okay because he has his own private army. All the while there are messages over the radio broadcast by a disc jockey playing reggae and saying the rebels are coming. But soldiers in gray uniforms are coming to kill almost everyone, including some of the child soldiers, and some members of the Vial family after Manuel goes over to the rebels.

None of this matters as much as the fact that Maria, a kind of foolish Mother Courage or life force, fights on till the end, even when the new workers she recruits flee, a sheep's head turns up in the coffee beans signifying doom, the power is cut, the gasoline runs out, and family members disappear or are killed. Maria repeatedly says she can't go back to France; to a young black woman she admits it's probably because she can't give up her power. She also says in France she couldn't "show courage." In short, she's useless anywhere else. She has contempt for the fleeing French soldiers, calling them "dirty whites" that never belonged here. This is her element. Unfortunately, her element is disintegrating. "White material," in English, is a phrase used variously by the African locals to denote possessions of the whites and the whites themselves. A child rebel comments that "white material" isn't going to be around much any more.

Denis is good at creating a sense of the many-layered chaos. Her mise-en-scène is vivid and atmospheric. Yet something isn't quite right. The casting feels wrong. Butor is a relic from a better movie, Lambert is unnecessary. Duvauchelle, who has played rebels but determined, disciplined ones, seems out of place with all his tattoos as a youth born in Africa and a good-for-nothing. Nobody can play an indomitable woman better than Isabelle Huppert, but for that very reason it would have been a welcome surprise to see a completely new face in this role.

As 'Variety' reviewer Jay Weissberg notes, the images by the new d.p. Yves Cape are less rich than those of Denis regular Agnes Godard, but may suit the violent action situation better, and the delicately used music is wonderfully atmospheric. This is definitely a Claire Denis film. What's unique is its sense of foreboding. You feel Maria is somehow bulletproof and yet you also fear that at any moment she'll walk into something she can't get out of.

Still, after the wonderful warmth of '35 Shots of Rum' and the haunting complexity of 'The Intruder,' there doesn't seem as much to ponder or to care about here, and even if this is a fresh treatment of familiar material, it's a bit of a disappointment. From another director it might seem impressive and exceptionally original, but from Denis, is seems to lack something, some more intense scenes, some grand finale.

Shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
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Has some sense of Africa but feels like a lot was left on the cutting room floor
White Material is a film about a coffee plantation in an unnamed African country (shot in Cameroon). Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) runs the place for her father Henri (Michel Subor). She has a layabout son called Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and a weak-willed husband André (played by Christopher Lambert of Highlander fame).

The French army is withdrawing and the country is fractured into regular army, rebels, and newly-formed mad-dog local militias out for rape and pillage, sprung from the ground once law and order dissolves, like Ray Harryhausen's skeleton warriors of the dragon's teeth (Jason and the Argonauts).

It's time to banish the White Material, that is white folk and the trappings of white living. Maria doesn't want to know though and stays on stubbornly trying to process her coffee crop.

The film is quite pretty and captures the feel of Africa on the ground, of the isolation and the wild beauty, but also the extreme lurking danger. Denis has roots in Africa and so manages a lot of authenticity. The dialogue is occasionally awesome, soliloquies in which Maria curses whites and talks about Africa in relation to Europe particularly stand out.

Unfortunately I think there are weak elements, Lambert isn't good enough and his character isn't even necessary (which goes for Henri too), Maria does something brutal and inexplicable at the end (in true clichéd Huppert style), and the film looks like it took a severe amount of cutting as there are plot threads that are barely picked up. The film has the feel of an overly condensed epic. The biggest problem though maybe the narrative structure, where the end occurs at the beginning, which in all frankness, and with due respect to a director who has entertained me with great films more than once, comes off as amateurish.

As usual the Tindersticks provide a wonderful soundtrack for Denis, so important for an auteur to have a proper musical collaborator, but they basically paper over the cracks.

The film is good enough if you just look at is as mesmerising anarchy, but it's not a multi-faceted Denis masterpiece. Isaach De Bankolé is underused as Le Boxeur, the rebel hero general, he's a symbol of a strong moral Africa, gut-shot and dying alone. This character lingers in the memory.
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Tense and depressing but classy
Framescourer16 October 2009
White Material is a troubling film that reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola's reading of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, i.e. not as psychological allegory but as fable for pertinent updating. The story revolves around the central figure of Marie, a white European African farm owner, who blindly refuses to acknowledge the danger of increasingly volatile local social unrest. Claire Denis spins a grander web from this precarious situation, invoking the precarious relationships that Marie supports and connects: a one-woman lynch-pin of love, industry and care.

I have not seen the recent Home or Gabrielle, to name two well-received recent performances from Huppert, but for me this is a very significant, form performance from the celebrated French actress. It is her sort of role to be sure: realist, serious, preoccupied, veiled. In addition I enjoyed her free physicality and lack of self-consciousness, helped no doubt by Denis' free camera-work, which often involves chasing Huppert around (her character is driving the film so Denis allows her to literally pull the action along).

Space is created for Marie's son to become the terminally dysfunctional, un-rooted wreck that others allude to, although he inspires no pity. Christopher Lambert, the father, is a marginal but clearly a more urbane figure whose absence tells you all you need to know about his relationship to the work-centred Marie. The supporting cast of native Africans are, unusually, all very good (in location films, there are often a number of local 'actors' who don't live up to the description) notably William Nadylam's Chérif with his Ejiofor-like self-possession and stillness. This film also has the distinction of having the most nausea-inducing child-murder sequence I've ever seen - or, more to the point, heard. 7/10
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A war-torn Africa populated by cardboard cut-out characters
tigerfish506 March 2011
Chaos reigns in some nameless, war-torn African nation. A murderous rag-tag guerrilla group searches the jungle wilderness for its charismatic wounded leader The Boxer, while some equally ruthless government soldiers try to hunt him down. As the signs of war multiply, The Boxer finds a hiding place in some deserted outbuildings at the Vial coffee plantation which has been abandoned by its workers. Fear surrounds the decaying French-owned estate where Maria Vial resides with her ex-husband Andre, their dissolute half-mad son and her hated father-in-law. Maria ignores warnings to leave and obsesses over the unharvested coffee crop, while Andre conspires with the sinister local mayor to hand over the property in exchange for safe passage out of the country.

Director Denis makes no attempt to explore her characters, their relationships or the stories behind their present condition, apparently satisfied with documenting the surface symptoms of communal meltdown. She focuses on Maria, but reveals nothing about her heroine except for the foolish fixation on the neglected coffee beans. All the other characters possess similarly one-dimensional personalities - the Europeans are reduced to stereotypes of colonial decadence, while the Africans are portrayed as bloodthirsty and venal. When the film culminates in an orgy of capricious madness it's impossible to care about anyone's fate, because it's obvious they are symbols existing in a metaphor. Denis doesn't appear to care either.
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A strong statement about the dehumanizing effects of war
Howard Schumann17 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Set in an unnamed African country embroiled in a brutal civil war after transitioning from French colonialism to independence, the insanity of war has never received a more graphic portrayal than in Claire Denis' White Material. Named to reflect the contempt in which blacks hold the white colonialists, it is a film gripped by tension, violence, and eventual madness, but with a strong sense of place and a remarkable feeling of authenticity. Though White Material is less elliptical than many of her films which entice viewers to fill in the gaps with their own imagination, its lack of background information and non-linear chronology can make it, at least initially, a somewhat disorienting experience.

Running a coffee plantation in the midst of the chaos, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) lives with her ex-husband André (Christopher Lambert), her father-in-law Henri (Michel Subor) who owns the plantation, and her layabout teenage son, Manuel (Nicholas Duvauchelle). She insists on business as usual despite the fact that her workers have abandoned their jobs out of fear of the child soldiers who make up the bulk of the rebel army. Pursued by the government militia, a wounded rebel leader (Isaach De Bankole), known only as "the Boxer", takes refuge at the plantation, increasing the possibility of retaliation.

Maria is warned by French soldiers from a helicopter that she should leave the country for her safety and that of her family, but she is proudly, if not blindly, determined to maintain the role that has always brought her security, though it is obvious from the first scene showing her alone on a road, that she has already been stripped of her colonial privileges. As author Andrew Sullivan once said, "When there's a challenge to our established world-view, whether from the absurd, the unexpected, the unpalatable, the confusing or the unknown, we experience a psychological force pushing back, trying to re-assert the things we feel are safe, comfortable and familiar."

Refusing to face the inevitable, Maria goes into the village to recruit other workers, insisting that her coffee crop must be harvested, though it is unclear who she expects to sell it to. Without her knowledge, André begins to make arrangements to leave on his own and tries to make a deal with the mayor (William Nadylam) to sell the property. Even her son does not escape the madness. After being brutally attacked and stripped by young rebels, Manuel shaves off all of his hair, grabs a loaded rifle, and joins the rebel soldiers. In one of the most telling scenes, after several pharmacists are murdered, the rebel soldiers, who include both young boys and girls, sit on the grass ingesting the stolen drugs as if they were on a picnic.

Despite the violence in White Material, there are some lovely moments evoked by cinematographer Yves Capes: wild dogs on a dirt road illuminated by the headlights of a car, the sounds of reggae music broadcasted by a disc jockey who promotes rebel causes, and the sight of Maria hanging onto the ladder of a bus filled with black refugees. Considering the depth and breadth of Denis' filmography, White Material may be a minor film, yet it is a graceful work of art, filled with a dreamlike quality that makes a strong statement about the dehumanizing effects of war, regardless of the rightness of the cause.
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This is France...and this is Africa.
jjedif15 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Isabelle Huppert (along with Helen Mirren, Juliette Binoche and Laura Linnie) is one of my five favorite actors (the only male on the list being Bill Murray), so I had no doubt that she could realistically play a colonial coffee farmer trying to hang on in soon-to-be post-colonial Africa.

From the opening scene, there seems to be no doubt that things will turn out badly for Huppert's character. This is, after all, not war-torn Algeria portrayed in "Battle of Algiers", where the French are going to fight tenaciously to hold onto "their" land and then suddenly fold and get out of Dodge City. This is sub-Saharan Africa, and the politicians back in France know that it will be more profitable, and maybe even easier for them, to turn their colonies over to local African dictators, who can then be bought off for the benefit of French corporations and politicians. It's a win-win situation for everyone...except for the vast majority of Africans and Huppert's character. Perhaps we could let the French off the hook by saying that France couldn't have prepared their African colonies for independence if they had wanted to. But the French certainly did nothing positive in their colonies during their stay or after they left (the best we can say is that the Belgians in the Congo were much worst).

This is life in the land of barely living, where the local African warlords have no background in or time for the niceties of "civilized" brutality and exploitation a la française. Huppert seems oddly out of place, a relatively nice colonist who perhaps thinks naively that she can trade on her relative niceness to survive the new and very ugly reality about to engulf her. But she is completely out of touch with the reality. She could choose to leave, unlike the Africans who work on her plantation. But she somehow thinks she has no choice but to stay even as child-soldiers wander across the countryside around here.

I mainly saw "White Material" mainly because I like Isabelle Huppert acting, because one seldom sees a movie filmed in sub-Saharan Africa and because I had read Louroma's "Les Soleils des Indépendance" dealing with Ivory Coast. But I spent most of the movie hoping that when her time came, Huppert's character would take one carefully-aimed shot to head to relieve her suffering.

A couple of other points. The Supplement interview with Claire Denis is well worth seeing (Isabelle Huppert's interview is okay; unfortunately the disk wouldn't let me watch the interview with Isaach de Bankolé). I was glad that the child-soldiers were not shown committing a lot of the violence in the film. And as Denis points out, the local actors were very good. I also know that not all African countries are the same, but I also wondered about whether there was a lot of violence against women during the conflict in Ivory Coast like is currently occurring every day in Congo. Still I was glad that violence against women was not shown; it wouldn't have added to the film's message or effect.
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maddening characters in a maddening world
SnoopyStyle14 August 2016
In French colonial Africa, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is struggling to finish the coffee bean harvest. The rebels are approaching. French forces are leaving. Local have turned to banditry and her workers have mostly abandoned her. The African mayor bullies André Vial (Christopher Lambert) to get his father to sell the plantation. Maria has their white son Manuel and André has his half-African son Jose. Maria stubbornly refuses to leave the harvest even after Manuel is stripped naked by a couple of boys. Manuel starts to deteriorate mentally. Maria discovers wounded rebel fighter Le Boxeur in her barn.

Isabelle Huppert embodies a fierce interior and stubbornness. The family's varying reaction to their situation can be mind-boggling. There is real tension but also frustration with Maria. These are maddening characters in a maddening world.
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Worst movie seen in along time
bobbobwhite20 December 2010
Just an awful and unengaging French movie about murderous civil war in a backward African country, about a coffee plantation owner's wife trying to get her coffee crop harvested in the middle of a violent civil war(what!!!) that has severely disrupted everything and put everyone's life in danger, and especially her family. What resulted is a confused mess of a critic's darling film that regular viewers will hate or not see, which is more likely, as always. This film will do no business in America, and surely will do poorly even in France. It is that bad and worse than many amateur's cheap docu-dramas.

Chopped up and haphazard editing("this is art")led to poor story continuity, flashbacks and flash forwards were thrown in without any sense of story progression or sense, and phone-it-in, very bland "acting" by the lead, played by Isabelle Huppert, made this the worst, should-have-been-good movie I have paid to see in ages, and I dearly love French films. The only thing good about it was the cinematography, and that was even much less than it should have been for a film made in wondrously beautiful Africa.

Isabelle Huppert showed an emotional range here of A to B and no more. No matter what was happening, bad to worse to worst, her face showed no emotion and was as relaxed as if she were strolling along the Seine, and her calm voice also reflected no emotion no matter that her world was crumbling around her. Plus, the oblique and foggy acting technique of the entire cast, obviously done at the filmmaker's "creative" insistence, did little to clarify or explain anything before or during the crisis they were in, and as was probably said at the time, "Hey, this is an art film! Anything goes." A good story well told instead would have been far superior and actually meant something.

See this failure of a film if you want to see a clueless French woman constantly wondering around rural Africa with a confused look on her face while making some of the most stupid decisions one could make with her life on the line, and that of her family. And the chopped off, abrupt ending left us smack in the middle of the mess and led nowhere. What a disappointment this film was in every way possible. It could have really said something of interest, instead of boring us to death. We can get that for free.
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Startling insight into war
ihrtfilms31 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Clare Denis is no stranger to setting her films in Africa and in White Material it is there we visit. In an unnamed nation, a woman walks along a dirt track trying to get a lift before eventually succeeding and as she rests we get taken back earlier to when see how she came to this point. The woman Maria is a white woman is a African country on the brink, despite warnings from those around her, as well as the French Army, desperation makes her seek out a way to finish the coffee crop on her plantation despite the ever increasing risks and threats towards the whites.

As her separated husband makes a deal to sell the plantation, her workers up and leave fearful of war, but she manages to hire new staff to try and complete the task. Encouraging her teenage son to join in, he reluctantly does so only to have a horrid encounter with two young armed children, an event which leaves him desperate and altered and he goes of the rails. Maria meanwhile risks further harm by sheltering a wounded rebel leader., as the situation around her becomes more violent and dire.

Denis has crafted a very good film here, one that from the outset has a sense of tension, foreboding, of the unknown and that menace is around every corner. The lush tropical surrounds stand side by side with the violence and bloodshed or innocents murdered and others fleeing for their lives. Isabelle Huppert is superb as the defiant but embattled Maria, who seemingly refuses to accept what is happening, as she states, 'things have been the same for months', self denial towards a worsening situation.

The film highlights the horror of conflict, that it effects everyone, no matter what side you choose and that in some countries conflict sees no boundaries with age as we see children and young woman brandishing guns and machetes. The film pays some attention to this and the absurdity of children fighting; we see the children handle guns like experts and shoot dead innocence before gorging on sweets and sleeping the day away before they themselves succumb to the horrors of war.

It is a thought provoking film one that s it progresses becomes more and more startling in it's depiction of war and the outcome is shocking and tragic to say the least. Powerful stuff.
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A White flag would be more appropriate.
johnnyboyz31 May 2013
Nobody's asking for constant tales of heroism and villainy. No one wants the same, tired narrative frameworks applied to a piece over and over. Nobody wants a film ticking the boxes that make up a form detailing genre demand every time. Alas, Claire Denis' White Material is so lacking in any sort of punch or concrete reason to give a damn about what's happening that by the end, you end up longing for the pre-sound days of handle-bar moustached sporting men tying young women to railway lines minutes before the hero of the hour rides on in and takes care of business. Here is one of those 'clever' films that depicts a Civil War, as well as all the terror and tension that comes with it, but would like you to think that it's actually secondary to all the "nothingness" going on in the foreground. You know the kind of approach I'm talking about, that sort that should one depict such an understated approach to an event in favour of just nothing, it's somehow "smart". The truth arrives much more crudely than we'd have liked, a film devoid of any sort of intelligence nor reason to even exist; a film without any of the threat that comes with good war films, a film without a grain of interest in its depiction of people too entrenched in their processes to act accordingly – a film without a reason to care; a detached film with very little to get excited about.

Unfolding in an unspecified Black African country fluent in French, the film covers a woman named Maria (Huppert) desperate to unload a coffee bean harvest in spite of the fact the elements, in the form of machine gun wielding child soldiers, are rapidly seeping their way across the country. The central idea isn't difficult to see, this notion revolving around the short sightedness of Capitalists too imbued in their own methods and getting a product out to think about themselves and those around them. The premise, equally resounding on paper, will see Huppert's character traipse around a desolate, Spaghetti Western-inflected terrain rife with war and suffering attempting to find people qualified to reap her harvest. Later on, she must maintain relationships with her former husband and son as well as care for an opposition soldier she's taken into the farm's care. The reality is, again, a piece as dry as the climate depicted within; a film as plodding in its depiction of plants being picked, grounded and plantation life in general being ploughed on with as anything else you could name. At least those Italian neo-realist films which were born out of the Second World War had an urgency to them, had something striking about them in spite similar grounds upon which to revolve around "nothing".

Things start ominously, beginning with the militarian threat in the form of a group of soldiers wading through a series of homes housed now only by the dead within the dark of the night. Things move to the past tense and we witness Maria hide from a truck full of these soldiers as it trundles down the dirt road, wary of the threat but more wary of the threat posed at her coffee beans back home: a fine crop which will be all but ruined because she cannot find the hands to do the required job out of this insurgency. Back at the plantation, frenzied requests from that of Maria's relatives fall on deaf ears. She, in spite of being white, sees herself as indigenous to this Black African nation and doesn't see as to why she should leave.

Her son, Manuel (Duvauchelle), makes for the one character who changes the most as the film progresses; leaving his shy, socially distanced existence for sake of shaving his head of hair; grabbing an assault shotgun and going out on the hunt for blacks after they humiliate him out in the fields during this war. Here is a depiction of something; a character study of someone beginning as one thing, having this outside agency in the form of the war come and affect him, before depicting this person going out and getting involved. Did the young man become enveloped by a hatred of Black Africans? Was it the potentially violent encounter that changed him, enrapturing him with a desire to actually taste violence? Is he destined to live out his days as a Neo-Nazi as of now?

The film, in fact, gets things so wrong so often that prior to his transformation it will need to induce drama from the meekest of places when it has Manuel naively venture out of the plantation in order to encounter these Blacks, much in the same way an English language 'slasher' film will perpetrate such things for shrill thrills. Where that aggrieves us there, we should not allow an auteur produced French language piece to fool us here? I read that Denis spent some time in Black French Africa during her childhood and people both speak and write of how film making can be a very personalised thing. If such a thing is true, where is the personalised stamp on her piece of work here? Where is the capturing of life in Black Africa from a white person's perspective, and why is it that such a person feels the need to depict life for such a woman in such a place during a time of war? Was there not enough drama in the first place? As far as French dramas go, White Material is a confused and wholly uninvolving effort.
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Story is intriguing but the slow pace & Rough editing makes it lil boring. Nicolas Duvauchelle is French Alex Pettyfer.Excellent!!!!
Saad Khan30 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
WHITE MATERIAL – CATCH IT ( B- ) White material is complex and gritty no doubt about that. Kudos for choosing an unusual story about a French woman, who refuse to leave Africa during racial disputes. Nonetheless the story is fascinating but the movie is really slow and multifaceted. Somehow the director didn't try to educate the viewers, she just pick up the story and presented in a way that everything we our self have to assume. What if I am a lame person and don't know what happens in Africa time to time?? I think a movie should be a complete package. For example, during the Most Gritty & Important scene, when gangster kids enter Manuel's house and on hearing Manuel (Nicholas Duvauchelle) waking up they run off. Manuel then follows them in the jungle and then Manuel injure his foot and suddenly in a Snap we see African Gansta kids holding Manual's head and snatching his chain, cutting his hairs with machete, after that they leave him entirely naked in the fields. I didn't get the editing in the scene, at one second the kids were far away looking at him turning back home and in the next scene they were holding him down. (WHY we have to suppose they suddenly grape him). After that the drastic behavior of the Manuel is understandable to an extent but there have been many scenes where the Editing has been roughly done like that even in the Last Scene we see Maria (Isabelle Huppert) coming towards her house, then in Next Second she is on top of storage room and sees her Son's body Burned Alive and in next second she is Killing her father-in-law with machete because she believes he is the reason she has spend all her life in Africa (That's what I got from the ending, I really have to search more to get what does that meant). So, the whole movie moves with a very slow pace and then in important scenes it move like Flash speed. That was Annoying!! Isabelle Huppert was excellent though it requires smart thinking to appreciate her performance, because she is not the women we see and meet in our daily life. She is strong, stronger than Men actually. Nicholas Duvauchelle is Amazing; he is a French ALEX PETTYFER, smart, bold, sexy and super talented. Overall, watch it for some really smart moments and Isabelle Huppert & Nicholas Duvauchelle Brilliant performance.
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White woman's burden
stensson5 August 2010
In an unknown African country, a civil war is going on. This French woman refuses to escape. She wants to save the coffee.

There's movie horror and there's real horror and this comes close to the later one. But it doesn't escalate, it's latent all the time, until the final eruption.

What's more important is however what's on trial here. It's not colonialism or greed or prejudices. More than so, it's The White Mother, who is rebelled, not only by her son, but by being determined, by not giving up, by not fearing. The key line is when she says to her son: -"I will never let you go". Interesting.
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thisissubtitledmovies9 December 2010
excerpt, more at my location - In Claire Denis' White Material (shot in Cameroon), themes of colonialism and rebellion collide within the context of an unspecified African nation. The film is, at times, deeply disturbing and shocking, and marks Denis' filmmaking return to Africa (after previously studying themes of African colonialism in films such as her 1988 directorial debut Chocolat) whilst drawing on real-life experiences of growing up in the continent.

White Material is a worthwhile and thought-provoking film, even if it does not quite reach the full sum of its parts. Isabelle Huppert is intriguingly complex and engaging in the central performance, with Nicholas Duvauchelle also shining in a difficult role as a young man descending into darkness.
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Crumbling fast but superficially
sergelamarche24 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I found the film sucks. Looks like too many events are cobbled together without preparation. Characters that know each other for long time seems not to care for each other. It's low budget. The story can't work as is. We arrive in strange country , we don't know anyone or anything and it is crumbling fast. It seems revenge racism is at work but it is only thieves and thugs that are profiting. A bit like under Mobutu.
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Heavy But Splendid
e-707332 June 2018
The ambiguous objective history evolved into the immediate slaughter, in which witness found no executioners or saviors. The outbreak of the film is focused on a moment, when everything is laid out in a logical. The quest for reason tends to ignore humanity itself. Therefore, the movie portrays the firmness itself in the ambiguous background. It was the unsolved curse between the blood and the earth, and the perfect performance of Isabelle Huppert.
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Identification issues with questioning colonization
batuhancanliturk31 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
In our daily lives, we use the word "identification" for variety of things that concern social and environmental factors. However, we really do not know what the identification means. Identification is a complicated progress that person never has a full control over this psychological situation. In Lacanian terms, identification can be considered as an instance of comprehension (Lacan J., Gallagher C., 2002). Any external factor can captivate the people to make it become their self-component. "White Material" is a must-see example for the identification issues with questioning colonization.

Although of her French origin, Maria considers herself as an African person. She has left France and never desires to return. She herself disdains the white French people with saying "These dirty whites... They don't deserve this beautiful land.". It can be obviously seen that she does not perceive herself as a French, while the rebels and the army call her as one such "dirty white" who is responsible for the country's filthiness. Although all threats, Maria does not retreat her actions for the coffee plantation. When she decides to travel for finding new workers, she even does not want to take the rifle with her. She believes that no harm might occur because of her appeal, identifying herself as an African makes her think in that way. As events spread, it is more clear to everyone around Maria that the situation is turning into less secure and more dangerous. It is important to see that what home means and how it feels to belong in a situation where others mark you an outsider. Manuel also suffers from being white. After two African boys mess with him and cut off his hair, he shaves himself and joins the rebels. We can see that, there is an obvious identity confusion for Manuel who lives for many years in this land as a white people. His depression is a sign of vulnerability for his belongings. Joining rebels can be interpreted as his reaction to again himself and his family to unravel confusion about his identity.

As we learn that the coffee plantation is established and owned by Maria's father. His wish is maintaining plantation by his family especially by his daughter, Maria. Plantation has been operated with African workers for years and it seems like a colonial symbol throughout the history. Since the first European colonies on African continent, plantations have been a major slavery places for the African black people. They are purchase by the plantation owners and they can be traded or sold as goods (Austin G., 2017). Although plantations are not operated in that way now, they offer still bad facilities for the African people. They are pushed to work in unacceptable conditions in different types of plantations. Because of that, Maria thinks her father as a root for dirtiness of white people and consequently colonization. In this manner, killing her own father reveals her anger and sorrow about the African people who are the slaves of the plantation. Hence, she wants to end this colonization by destroying the foundation of it. Like mentioned earlier, her father can be seen as a foundation. Feeling and identifying herself as an African sets up the idea of releasing her inner-self and showing where she belongs.
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Africa Wins Again
Suradit7 October 2013
I lived in Africa for nearly 25 years and, whenever things went south no matter whether with trivial or major consequences , a common response was "AWA," Africa Wins Again.

Usually the reason some undertaking failed was attributable to human intransigence and stubborn refusal to be accommodative, but the results were similar to those experienced when a plantation or garden was left untended. Africa reclaimed the situation (or the plantation) and things quickly returned to it more "natural" state, as if any traces of human intervention had been fully erased.

This story has to do with a multi-generational French family living in an unnamed African country, apparently for quite a long time, as a revolution is unfolding that is both anti-government and anti-exploitation-by-colonial-types like the family.

Aside from the utter despair for all parties concerned, it's a little difficult to see what the point of the movie was. Maybe if we had seen a little of the main characters before the revolution, their slide into hopeless refugees-to-reality would have been more telling. As it is, from the start nearly everyone seems to have already found his or her own way to deny what's going on and the viewer is more likely to feel apathy for everyone rather than any sympathy.

The "star" is a woman who apparently never owned a comb or hair brush or any clothes appropriate to her daily activities. Aside from a pile of greasy, stringy, uncontrollable, overly long hair, she is a pretty one-dimensional, forgettable character. In addition to being in total denial about what's going on about her, she also seems unaware that her "school boy" son has gone completely over the wall. At least he has the sense to shave his head, something I kept wishing the woman would do.

If the objective was to show how Africa will always win again and reduce anyone and everything to the lowest common denominator (presumably taking the racist view that whites will be reduced to the lowest level ... that of native Africans ... if they let their guard down), then it failed remarkably. Just about everyone in the movie seemed to be rather pathetic from the start. It may be true that "Things Fall Apart," but for some things/people, that was a pretty small change.
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Histerically boring
carlitaantonini8 September 2011
A story of a distressed woman willing to die and sacrifice her own family rather than giving up some acres of land somewhere in the middle of nowhere merely to prove (to none) that she is not afraid.

Isabelle Huppert provides as always an excellent and charming neurotic character. Her character is brave and determined but the whole objective of her determination makes no sense at all.

Overall, the script is pretty poor. It is not certain if the movie wants to talk about female neurosis, ignorant expatriates behavior, social revolution, oppressed against colonizers, black and white or simply tell the story of how someone can get blind by her own ego.

Nice photography of landscapes, some minutes of enjoying to see Huppert acting and absolutely nothing more.
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more myths of the dark continent
trpuk19685 September 2010
White Material promotes the idea of Africa as 'heart of darkness'. Having the action take place in an 'unnamed African country' has the effect of making the entire continent a locus for every kind of depravity and evil, because this could be 'anywhere and everywhere' on the continent. Giving no historical, social or political context for the events which unfold situates them outside of any framework and has the effect of portraying Africans as irrational: a racist discourse which has been sustained since the eighteenth century and on, when justifications had to be found firstly for slavery and then later on for colonial exploitation. I hope I ve read this film wrong because I enjoyed Denis' other film 35 Shots of Rum and, although I ve not seen it, I heard her film Chocolat is empathetic towards Africans.
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Resistance: When All Else Fails
gradyharp24 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
WHITE MATERIAL (the term is defined as all things owned by or being 'white' in a black culture) is a strange little film by the highly respected Claire Denis who wrote (with Marie N'Diaye and Lucie Borleteau) and directed this rather timeless, non-specifically placed study of disintegration of family and life somewhere in Africa. Perhaps not giving a time frame or more information about the politics of the place where this film takes place is meant to metaphorical, but for many viewers it will make the story more of a conundrum than is necessary.

Maria Vial (the extraordinary actress Isabelle Huppert) runs a coffee plantation owned by her father-in-law Henri (Michel Subor): the plantation has seen better economic days and Maria's former husband André (Christophe Lambert) who not only offers no help to the plantation but is trying to sell it before it goes bankrupt: Andrés also has taken another woman Lucie (Adèle Ado) and has a young son by her. Maria's only child Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a tattooed loser and probably his unstable mind is due to drug abuse. So it is Maria by herself that is in charge of the plantation.

There is a political uprising with rebels, led by Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), destroying all the white material seen to be the evil of the country. Maria sides with Boxer, protecting him from the ruling corrupt government, and as the people Maria has employed on her plantation flee because of the insurrection, Maria is repeatedly warned to return to France - an idea she finds repugnant and will do anything to save her land. She gathers a few frightened people to harvest her coffee beans, but as she is processing the beans she uncovers a severed goat head in the beans - a sign of doom. Maria must fight to save her home and in the end her choices are altered by a vile deed that shows how far she has fallen in her attempt to change her personal destiny: she has lost her business, her son has gone completely mad, and her former husband and her father-in-law fail to aid her plight. Even giving aid to Boxer, the chief of the rebels, fails to alter her plight.

The film is confusing in that there is not enough history or information about place so that the message seems to be that all of Africa is always in turmoil and that the conflict between blacks and whites is a constant. Real history does not support that act and the reality of the people of that continent deserve better, Isabelle Huppert is always outstanding, but even in this situation her character is a bit monotonous. The musical by Stuart Staples is outstanding, possibly the best aspect of this film that could have been much better. In French with English subtitles.

Grady Harp
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Incoherence Explained
Aristides-210 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
*Incoherence explained

An un-paralled experience in double-confusion if one makes sure to hear director Denis' \"explanation\" of what the film is about, in the supplemental interview she gives. In relating her experience during pre-production references and then in explanations of why such-and-such happened during the filming itself one is led to understand why the film should be titled, \"White Material, or Incoherence Explained Incoherently.\" I suppose that the actual chaos of filming, with all the bureaucratic snafus and unusual technical shortcomings made the experience unusually \"thrilling\". This unplanned thrill was so pervasive, after the fact, that the temporary psychosis it produced made Ms. Denis and probably all deeply connected with the movie think that they had made a great film. *Anyone be willing to hazard a guess why Maria hacked her father-in-law to death?
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French Guilt
tieman6425 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Isabelle Huppert plays Maria Vial, a white farmer living in an unnamed African country. With her ex husband, father and son, she leads a cloistered, privileged existence, overseeing her coffee plantations while talk of civil war warbles on the radios. As conflicts escalate, Maria's plantation workers abandon her, some fearing for their lives, others deciding to at last cast off the shackles of Colonialism. As African leaders and mobs converge on her plantation, Maria remains fixed, refusing to abandon the continent. To reveal more about the plot would be to dilute the horrors that unfold.

Though director Claire Denis made better films with "35 Shots of Rum" and "The Intruder", "White Material" does well to balance the lingering afflictions of colonialism and French occupation with Africa's own betrayals of its independence. Nevertheless, the film suffers from a conventional, obvious narrative, the result of Denis' struggles to condense "Big Themes" down into some manageable, approachable structure. Like most of these films, "White Material" also treats Africa and Africans in a somewhat condescending manner.

Incidentally, this current wave of French and African (though often also French co-financed) pro-Africana films ("Bamako", "White Material", "Munyurangabo" etc) echoes a similar wave during the early sixties. After and while the British Empire was being disbanded, British and Italian directors released numerous "anti-Empire", "anti-Colonial" films, one, "Guns at Batasi", strongly resembling Denis' work here.

8/10 - Ranges from powerful to far too conventional. See "Le Grand Blanc De Lambarene". Worth one viewing.
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Out Of Africa
writers_reign24 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Perhaps more than any actress of similar stature Isabelle Huppert is always more than happy to lend her considerable clout to non-commercial projects so much so that I'm almost frightened to check her CV lest the 'experimental' titles outweigh the entertainments. In an interview included with the DVD writer director Clair Denis, who wrote the book on art house fodder, credits Huppert with instigating this film in which despite a couple of killings (one by Huppert herself) nothing happens. The setting is Africa and unbelievably several reviewers here have claimed the flat combination of lifeless grass and dirt is beautiful. A civil war is in progress (really! In Africa, you do surprise me) and Huppert is advised to leave while she can. She refuses. End of any plot. I'll always watch Huppert but if she goes on like this the day may come when she forfeits any clout she may have. When the "Home"s and "Deux" start to outnumber the "Les Soeurs Fachees" the writing may be on the wall.
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At times interesting and shocking, but it could have been better...
MartinHafer16 November 2011
I read through a couple reviews before I watched "White Material" and noticed that they pointed out that the film never says where the action is taking place--other than it's in a French-speaking part of Africa where they grow coffee. I thought it could be the Ivory Coast, Burundi or Cameroon--and when I checked IMDb, I saw it was filmed in Cameroon--though whether this is where the film is supposed to be set is uncertain. My bet is that it's just supposed to be a metaphor for ALL of colonial Africa and the drive over the last 60 years to take back the continent for Africans--so the language could have been English and the plantation could have been growing any one of a number of crops. In hindsight, I think the movie probably should have identified the country, as without a clear context, the film is a bit vague and difficult for many viewers.

As far as the film goes, it's like a snippet of film with little context. Who is fighting who, what has occurred that set the stage for the movie and who the people are in the film really isn't important for the filmmakers. This makes it difficult to connect with the people. Should you admire or hate the leading lady (Isabel Huppert)? Is her obsession with saving her plantation and bringing in the next coffee crop justified or not? What's going on with her family--the ex-husband, the son, the father, etc.? The film really doesn't have a lot to say about any of this. And, like not knowing where the film takes place, is something that many viewers may feel frustrated about as connecting with the people is very difficult.

None of this is to say that this is a bad film--but it does prevent it from being an exceptional film. It's interesting but could have said a lot more. It is a very, very quiet and slow film--which is interesting considering the country is racked with violence and chaos. Because of this, I really felt the film was limiting its appeal--which is a shame, as colonialism and its aftermath are really important topics for movies but are seldom discussed. Plus, while repulsive, the violence and seeing child soldiers is, unfortunately, not that uncommon on the continent and worth discussing.

By the way, although it's not gratuitous or salacious, the film has a bit of full-frontal male nudity. Also, not surprisingly, late in the film there is some pretty horrific violence. Just be forewarned.
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