Directed by Claire Denis
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankole
“White Material,” from the acclaimed French director Claire Denis, unfolds in an elliptical, elemental continuum that evokes the sense memory of a place and series of events rather than their specifics.
Set in an unnamed contemporary African country, the movie centers on the Vial coffee plantation — run by the determined Maria (Isabelle Huppert) and her ex-husband, Andre (Christopher Lambert) — and the crisis it faces when a brewing civil war spurs a rise in anti-white tensions.
Denis, who grew up in Africa and has made it the subject of prior works, concocts an atmosphere rife with complex, conflicting emotions. The terror of the Vials’ uncertain future mixes with Maria’s pride in hard, concentrated work well done. The vulnerable, strange condition of a white family stranded in an unfriendly African land blends with the filmmaker’s deep-rooted affection for its remarkable beauty.
With her propensity for wide, long shots, Denis amplifies that attachment to the expansive forests, mountain-dwarfed plantations and endless dirt roads that define the locale. The movie achieves an eerie, transfixing power as the stubborn Maria tries to preserve her way of life and by extension her sense of self amid the splendor, ignoring the dangerous currents advancing her way.