WHITE MATERIAL Review

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
Claire Denis (Trouble Everyday, Beau Travail) goes back to the colonial Africa and tells a story of a coffee plantation owned by a white family caught in a civil war. Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), a matron of the family is perhaps a clueless, arrogant white woman, as she tries to hire fleeing locals to finish coffee harvest, oblivious to total chaos around her. But we are definitely not watching some helpless puzzle piece in an overwrought, meticulously planned Haneke movie. Maria is not quite the white devil. It's her ingrained sense of entitlement that makes her a curio as she refuses to leave and calling other whites undeserving of the beautiful land.

We are firmly in the Denis territory and there are some amazingly blissful sequences- Maria riding a motorcycle on the dirt road, piles of child soldiers all doped up with pills and junk food spread out in the Vial house...just to name a few. Huppert fits perfectly in the white woman role. Her glaring whiteness is used well against the black continent. Isaach De Bankolé is a Ché like rebel leader the Boxer. Michel Subor, Christopher Lambert and Nicolas Duvauchelle round up the elusive supporting cast.

White Material is not her most abstract film, yet Denis still manages to keep the film absorbing and enigmatic without ever being didactic or boring. It's definitely headier and feels more substantial than her other works. And the sense of freedom I feel when I watch a Denis's film that I like the most is still intact. It's an invigorating experience.

White Material opens limited in the U.S. this Friday, the 19th, with more cities to follow.

Read my Interview with Claire Denis here

Read Ben Umstead's review from NYFF 2009
here

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions of the world are found in dustinchang.com




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