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||IMDB Rating: 7.0/10 from 16 votes
||Release: 22 July 2010 (Netherlands) /
||Stars: Adèle Ado, Ali Barkai, Christine-Ange Tatah, Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankolé, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Marie Ahanda, Mama Njouam, Martin Poulibe, Michel Subor, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Patrice Eya, Serge Mong, Thomas Dumerchez, William Nadylam
||Synopsis: Denis revisits Africa, this time exploring a place rife with civil and racial conflict. A white French family outlawed in its home and attempting to save its coffee plantation connects with a black hero also embroiled in the tumult. All try to survive as their world rapidly crumbles around them Written by Pusan International Film Festival
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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'
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
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
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.
Tags for White Material Full Movie
, Ali Barkai
, Christine-Ange Tatah
, Christopher Lambert
, Isaach De Bankolé
, Isabelle Huppert
, Jean-Marie Ahanda
, Mama Njouam
, Martin Poulibe
, Michel Subor
, Nicolas Duvauchelle
, Patrice Eya
, Serge Mong
, Thomas Dumerchez
, William Nadylam
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