White Material


White Material Review

Claire Denis resolutely refuses to make simple movies, so this intense drama set during a civil war in central Africa feels somewhat elusive as it concentrates on emotions rather than plotting. But it's still riveting.

Maria (Huppert) is passionate about her family's coffee plantation, which she runs with her ex-husband Andre (Lambert) and her father-in-law (Subor). She's sure that a violent clash between the army and rebels will pass them by, so she works to make sure the harvest goes as planned. But Andre, now married to a local woman (Ado), is more realistic. And their late-teen son Manuel (Duvachelle) is struggling to find his identity. Meanwhile, an iconic rebel leader (De Bankole) has taken refuge in Maria's home.

The film's prologue, a scene from later in the story, establishes the earth as the main character. Yves Cape's cinematography beautifully takes the perspective of the land itself, which makes the clashing groups of men and women seem almost frivolous compared to the raw power of nature. It's a clever approach that undermines the events and forces us to look into the people themselves.

It of course helps to have an actress as gifted at showing her soul as Huppert is, effortlessly conveying Maria's conflicting loyalties and tough-but-fragile physicality. Around her, Lambert and Duvachelle add remarkable textures that aren't always easy to read, especially as Manuel loses the plot and goes Rambo.

Nadylam is also very good as the local mayor who realises that the balance of power is shifting sharply.

The title refers to the riches left behind by colonialists who exploited the land and took what they could get. Their time is over, and it's no longer a case of fitting in and working together, as Maria does. Even if it's not easy to get a grip on the events themselves, we can certainly identify with the feeling that something unthinkable is happening here. How could such an ordered society crumble so completely? How can the children be the givers (and receivers) of so much of the violence? This is complex, evocative filmmaking that leaves us deeply disturbed by what's happening in the world around us.

White Material

Facts and Figures

Genre: Foreign

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 24th March 2010

Box Office USA: $0.3M

Distributed by: IFC Films

Production compaines: France 3 Cinema, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch


Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 71 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew


Starring: as Maria Vial, as André Vial, Nicolas Duvauchelle as Manuel Vial, as Le Boxeur