Contributor; Chicago, Illinois

Criterion releases all kinds of films. While they concentrate on time honored classics (often in need of careful restoration) they occasionally release current films. It's a practice that bothers some who see Criterion asa benchmark for what is classic or must see. In the case of White Material everyone, including the purists, should be very happy. 

An unnamed African country, approaching revolution, is home to a dysfunctional white family that run a failing coffee plantation.  Maria refuses to see the writing on history's wall even when the plantation is targeted as a symbol of colonialism by approaching forces. Slowly, violence invades what had been a relatively peaceful existence until Maria, abandoned by everyone, must decide where her allegiances lay. A situation complicated by "The Boxer" a rebel leader she has given refuge to. 

White Material is a haunting film in every sense of the word, as beautiful to look at as it is terrible to contemplate. It is full of performances that are pitch perfect but none more so than Isabelle Huppert who manifests an almost impossible complexity creating a character who is emotionally flatlined but somehow passionate her feelings on display through action rather than words or facial expression. At risk is her do nothing son, an ex-husband who really does seem to care for her and a family business. But she's clinging to something secret, something the audience may or may not end up privy too. 

Carefully balanced against a landscape littered with physical remains of revolution on the rise, the film offers a complex politic, pitting what seem to be real (not filmic) people and their choices against forces that, once set in motion, become equally difficult to judge. The specter of colonialism hangs over the film like a shroud but its adorned with a rich tapestry of emotion and good and bad intentions on both sides. 

The film couldn't really look or sound any better than this. The digital transfer was supervised and approved by director Claire Denis and cinematographer Yves Cape and offers a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition. Extras include interviews with Denis and actors Isabelle Huppert and Isaach de Bankolé, a short documentary by Denis on the film's premiere at the Écrans Noirs Film Festival 2010 in Cameroon, a deleted scene and theatrical trailer. There's also a booklet with a new essay by critic Amy Taubin. 

White Material

  • Claire Denis
  • Claire Denis (scenario)
  • Marie N'Diaye (scenario)
  • Lucie Borleteau (collaboration)
  • Isabelle Huppert
  • Christopher Lambert
  • Nicolas Duvauchelle
  • William Nadylam
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Claire DenisMarie N'DiayeLucie BorleteauIsabelle HuppertChristopher LambertNicolas DuvauchelleWilliam NadylamDrama

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