White Material: Denis Dissects Black and White in Africa

by Anne Thompson
January 4, 2011 2:50 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood
Claire Denis' White Material is no Out of Africa. Take away the Hollywood studio gloss, the romance, the carefully framed vistas at magic hour. None of that. This is another look at Africa, up close and personal, a stripped down movie that manipulates you by withholding information and playing with your sympathy toward beautiful French actress Isabelle Huppert. White Material often frustrated me while I was watching it--who's that? What is their relationship? Is he/she crazy?

We follow this smart, capable, tough coffee plantation owner (Huppert) in a beleaguered African country being torn apart by civil war; the woman doesn't want to give in to the need to run away. She wants to harvest her coffee crop. It's all she knows. She is in complete denial as to what could happen. Until it does.

Check out this film fest fave (IFC On Demand; trailer below); here's a provocative Filmmaker interview with Denis.

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