By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
One of the most critically loved but otherwise obscure movies of 2010 was this one, by French director Claire Denis, who grew up in various locales in Africa.This clearly influenced her directing career, as the majority of her films deal with Africa or African immigrants.
White Material tells the story of a French coffee plantation owner whose world is coming apart around her.She’s caught between a rebel force and a corrupt government, but she refuses to leave the plantation, insisting on harvesting the crop as normal.She delusionally clings to this idea even as things continue to worsen and her ex-husband, grown good for nothing son, and aging father-in-law also stay, affected by the same denial of reality.
Few people can establish atmosphere like Claire Denis, and the way she builds tension is absolutely virtuoso.Silent menace hangs over every scene, no matter how little appears to actually be going on.It almost feels like the muggy calm before a summer lightning storm, and the fact that the first 90 minutes of 104 are devoted to this and the movie is still fascinating is one hell of an accomplishment.
The acting is excellent, especially the much-acclaimed Isabelle Huppert as the protagonist, although in a very unique way.We don’t really get to see inside her character (or the majority of them) via normal avenues like personal conversations or melodramatic acting.Character is instead established by close observation of her actions, which are not always chronologically presented.This makes us deduce her motivations from the effect rather than the cause.
The more you think about this movie the more it gets under your skin.Everything is so subtle, and taken piece by piece relatively unengaging, but taken as a whole very powerful.
There is one part of the film that I need to call out, and a bit of beer should help drown out the “what the fuck just happened?” thoughts.I won’t say what exactly, but at the end of the movie Huppert’s character does something that is completely unforeshadowed and a mite bit ridiculous.I’ve checked out a few theories, but none of them are satisfying.
If you want to see a real filmmaker flex her muscles and accomplish something not quite like anything you’ve seen before, this is the ticket.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever you see a shirtless man
Take a Drink: whenever you hear/read the words “coffee” or “rebel”
Take a Shot: for gratuitous, lingering male full-frontal nudity