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White Material

White Material

4.0 1
Director: Claire Denis

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Isaach de Bankolé, Christopher Lambert


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In this drama directed and co-written by Claire Denis, Isabelle Huppert plays Maria, a white French expatriate living in an African nation that has fallen into political chaos. Maria owns a coffee plantation, and regards her property as her personal domain; she's not about to give up her land, though her


In this drama directed and co-written by Claire Denis, Isabelle Huppert plays Maria, a white French expatriate living in an African nation that has fallen into political chaos. Maria owns a coffee plantation, and regards her property as her personal domain; she's not about to give up her land, though her stubborn attitude prevents her from admitting that she's putting those close to her in danger, or even acknowledging the gravity of her situation. Maria has two children with her former husband, André (Christopher Lambert), a young adopted boy and dissatisfied twentysomething Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle). André is deeply concerned for the safety of Maria and their sons, and has made plans for her and the boys to flee to Europe, but Maria insists that the military will protect her and the others in the area, a belief that seems to be fueled by arrogance rather than fact. White Material received its North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Mark Deming
Some filmmakers take it upon themselves to spell out every detail of the story they're sharing on the screen. Director and screenwriter Claire Denis has taken a very different approach in her film White Material; we never know for certain exactly where we are, when the events onscreen are taking place, or what has caused all this to happen. What Denis does make clear is that her characters have fallen into a world where all is chaos and dread, and White Material is a powerful and troubling study of the nexus of power, privilege, arrogance, and violence. White Material is set in an unnamed African nation, in a time presumably not far from the present day. Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is a French expatriate who runs a coffee plantation that's seen better days. Despite it all, she takes great pride in her property and is determined to bring in the harvest, lording it over her employees with a firm hand. At the same time, the country is falling into political turmoil, and the plantation is in the middle of a revolt. A leader known as "The Boxer" (Isaach De Bankolé) is spearheading an uprising among the people, and he's commandeered an army of the poor and the alienated, as well as a band of child soldiers. The government seems unwilling or unable to put down The Boxer and his growing forces, and nearly all of Maria's employees have fled, convinced her plantation is going to be a target for violence when the powder keg is finally touched off. But Maria is clouded by arrogant denial; she stubbornly refuses to believe that anything will happen, she will not be bullied off her land, and despite all the evidence around her that a wave of bloodshed looms, she's much more concerned with bringing in the coffee crop than making her way to safety. At the same time, Maria's ex-husband, André (Christopher Lambert), is trying to convince her to leave while keeping an eye on their troubled twentysomething son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), and their younger adopted child. Amidst the growing chaos, Maria's determination to pretend all is well in her world begins to look and feel like madness, especially after she gives The Boxer shelter at her estate as the military finally begins their crackdown. Given its lack of concrete details and reluctance to even assign names to many of its characters, White Material tells a tale that's enigmatic at best, but even though the film has been running for a good ten minutes before we have any idea of what is happening to the characters and why, from the start Claire Denis brilliantly captures a mood of unease, a time and place where things are not right and seemingly no one will be spared the ugliness clearly on its way. Denis' approach is understated but powerfully effective, and despite the rough-hewn beauty of the locations (captured with powerful naturalism by cinematographer Yves Cape), the air of menace permeates every frame of White Material, creating a tension that never lets up as the story eases its way to its grim (if not unexpected) conclusion. Denis is given a remarkable assist by Isabelle Huppert, who is excellent as Maria; Huppert makes the character's determination and love of her land as real and as felt as the dangerous absurdity in her unwillingness to acknowledge the danger of her situation and the folly of her actions. Huppert's performance is so realistic and pitch-perfect that she upstages Christopher Lambert and especially Nicolas Duvauchelle, who can't help but seem affected by comparison as her former husband and son; neither is bad, but they can't hold a candle to Huppert's quiet, tightly focused obsession. With Huppert's help, Denis has crafted a compelling tale in which several kinds of chaos converge with the impact of a hurricane visible just off the coastline. At the same time, White Material is also troubling in its depiction of a world with no heroes or villains, merely interchangeable figures with guns bringing destruction to those around them; the child soldiers seem only a bit more distracted and impatient than their adult peers, and every bit as violent. The film is too cryptic to point fingers at the root of the evil on display, but that may well be the point -- in a world like the one Denis has depicted, evil has become an inevitability, and we all play a part, whether we're active participants or struggling to ignore what's taking place before our eyes.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound]
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Isabelle Huppert Maria Vial
Isaach de Bankolé The Boxer
Christopher Lambert André Vial
Nicolas Duvauchelle Manuel Vial
William Nadylam The Mayor
Adèle Ado Lucie Vial
Ali Bacha Barkai Jeep
Daniel Tchangang José
Michel Subor Henri Vial

Technical Credits
Claire Denis Director,Screenwriter
Père Abiassi Set Decoration/Design
Yves Cape Cinematographer
Pascal Caucheteux Producer
Guy Lecorne Editor
Jean-Paul Mugel Sound/Sound Designer
Marie N'Diaye Screenwriter
Stuart S. Staples Score Composer
Christophe Vingtrinier Sound/Sound Designer
Christophe Winding Sound/Sound Designer

Scene Index

New digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Claire Denis and cinematographer Yves Cape, with DTS-HD master audio soundtrack ; New interviews with Denis and actors Isabelle Huppert and Isaach de Bankolé; Short documentary by Denis on the film's premiere at the 2010 Écrans Noirs film festival in Cameroon ; Deleted scenes ; Theatrical trailer


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White Material 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
DonCE More than 1 year ago
An engrossing story of revolution in Africa with a tremendous performance by Isabelle Huppert as a woman trying to hold on to her life and homestead amid chaos.