White Material (2009)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.5

France/Cameroon2009Why Not Productions, , France 3 Cinéma, , France Télévision, , Centre National de la Cinématographie, Les Films Terre Africaine, Cinémage 2, Sofica UGC 1, Procirep.  Scenario by Claire Denis, , collaboration with .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by National Board of Review Awards 2010.   National Society of Film Critics Awards 2010.  Toronto International Film Festival 2009Washington Film Critics Awards 2010.

Although you’ve seen a movie about a white woman running a coffee plantation in Africa before, make no mistake about it, this is no Out Of Africa. Claire Denis returns to the continent of her youth in a harrowing account of an unnamed post-colonial country, torn apart by civil war with its inhabitants in constant danger for their lives. The magnificent Isabelle Huppert plays the proprietress of a plantation who insists that the rumours of battle are overstated and that the panic is unnecessary, desperately trying to keep her workers from leaving but unable to prevent it. Instead she looks to hire temporary workers until the situation tides over, but the process of merely going into town to get money and then traveling to remote parts of the city to find people to work for her is a journey that puts her life in danger at any turn. It doesn’t help that her husband () is no longer interested in their property, and her son () has no interest in hard work. Huppert’s performance is, as always, superb, and Denis contributes incredibly strong images, powerful but never overstated. The violence that this much-abused world indulges in is never graphically exploited by the director, but is put forward quite honestly, while the commentary on European presence in Africa is thoughtfully provoking but never didactic or shrill. One of the most powerful films ever made on its subject, and one of the best of its year.

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