Friday, November 26, 2010

White Material

Having only seen "35 Shots of Rum," a pretty good but also pretty overrated film, I was a little skeptical of hugely admired director Claire Denis. However, her new "White Material," a film about the end of stability and trying to continue afterwards, is a great work. This is a movie that grows and grows, one that I had doubts about at the beginning that were answered by the end. It is a piece to relish and (it has been said, believably so) to see more than once. It will not have a unanimous appeal, that's for sure. For example, it has a twisty, hard-to-follow composition (beginning at the near-end and cycling in and out, through past and present) that has been criticized. I, though, find it entirely inherent to the film and its success. The film also seems to be about very little, but in its quietly sprawling nature, it rises above.

Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is an unsuccessful French coffee proprietor staying in Africa even though her country's army has left and her workers have abandoned her. She's caught in the middle of a standoff between officials and rebels, personified by José (Daniel Tchangang) and the on-the-ropes and bleeding Boxer (Isaach de Bankole). Her ex-husband André (Christophe Lambert) is trying to sell their plantation to José and her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a slacker whose supposed streak of "insanity" is exposed after he gets robbed and stripped naked.

Anyways, the film shows Vial as she presses on, trying to carry on her normal life as it is starting to crumble. I won't say much more on the plot than that, as there is not a lot to say, other than that it travels familiar roads with transcendent results. What must be mentioned and praised is the excellent work by cinematographer Yves Cape (who's shot for Bruno Dumont before). Whether it be a stationary spread, a shaky follower, or a swift tracking shot, Cape does it right. (And although it seemed dubious to employ, as has been said before, Dardennes-like close-ups, they are well validated.) Stuart Staples and the Tindersticks' score (similar to the one by Wasis Diop in "A Screaming Man") is also first-rate. Finally, Huppert, in a much-lauded role, is always solid with some amazing moments (for example, the scene where she berates her son in his bedroom). "White Material" is the type of film that many are bound to turn off early or to not even bother with. That's their loss. A

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