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White Material (DVD)

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Genre: Drama / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Claire Denis / Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Isaach De Bankole, Christophe Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, William Nadylam ... / DVD released 2010-12-06 at Artificial Eye / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      29.12.2011 16:16
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      Arty but true

      Star - Isabelle Huppert
      Run Time - 100 minutes
      Cert - 15
      Genre - Drama
      Country - French
      Format - Subtitles
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      'White Material' is what black Africans call the leftover remnants of the colonialists that once exploited their beautiful continent, the white settlers that refuse to leave a place they call home as they love the country as much as the locals do, a small cash crop or two their income, clinging on in the farms and homesteads dotted around the bush, the theme and message to this thoughtful and well acted foreign language drama. These homesteaders offer stable seasonal employment to those locals, black and white getting on surprisingly well in a non master - servant way, whether that fact is comfortable or not to today's Black Africa. We will never be forgiven even though they miss us. But because the whites have what looks like opulent lifestyles in their big old farm houses and ranches they are easy targets for unscrupulous black politicians (Mugabe) who can blame the whites for all the countries woes and take power for many decades to come off the back of that reverse racism.

      Clearly the history of Africa has been one of exploitation by white on blacks but it's the European Empires who bought any sort of order and commerce to the continent and its black leaders who are the ones exploiting the continent now. I remember from my time working in South Africa just after Mandela and his ANC party took control that the papers were full of stories of corrupt black politicians, their attitude as bad as the whites towards their fellow citizens, lets take all the wealth and sod the rest, brainlessly stealing from themselves, leaving black South Africa even more impoverished and crime ridden than it was under the whites, Mandela quadrupling unemployment in just ten years. With Zimbabwe style farm land grabs beginning there you do wonder how long until South Africa goes the same way, the white wealth creators fleeing and the blacks claiming the smoldering husk.

      That line in the sand is an interesting dynamic to explore on screen, here the drama set in an unnamed French speaking African country in the present day, and no better an actress to play the lead than French thespian Isabelle Huppert, putting in her best performance to date.
      When you actually research the way the west carved up Africa during and after the slave trade its surprising how much of it we colonized and asset stripped and just how many European countries were involved. Who knew the Germans took over Namibia and still the second most spoken language there?


      ----The Cast----

      * Isabelle Huppert as Maria
      * Christopher Lambert as André, her husband
      * Nicolas Duvauchelle as Manuel, their son
      * Isaach de Bankolé as "The Boxer"
      * Adèle Ado as Lucie
      * Michel Subor as André's father
      * William Nadylam as Chérif, the mayor
      * David Gozlan as Hamudi


      ----The Plot----

      Maria (Isabelle Huppert) is a gutsy white farmer who runs a failing coffee plantation in an unnamed soon to be war torn French speaking African country, her ex husband André (Christopher Lambert) and their manic depressive teenage son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and aging father (Michel Subor) offering varying assistance on the land.

      Maria is determined to stay and make it work and bring in their coffee cash crop whereas Andre is more realistic and has gone into town to hand over the deeds of the farm to the two-faced town Sherif (William Nadylam), once a friend and now a potential warlord, who will give the family a poor price for the land but Andre hopes will provide them security and safe passage as the rebels close in, white farmers not high on the popularity list, ominous voices over the radio egging the locals on to attack anyone in support of the government and emblems of colonialism.

      Maria is about to encounter one of those rebels, an injured man called 'The Boxer' (Isaach de Bankolé), hiding up in her shed, offering him assistance with food and water, Maria not taking sides on Africa's quarrels but attracting the wrong kind of attention for doing her good deed. But she is delusional over her chances of staying and the local workers reticent to help her bring in the coffee as they fear reprisals. The child soldiers and their machetes are on their way, the new Africa, and will come for all of them soon and so time to get out, something Maria absolutely refuses to do.


      -----The Conclusions-----

      This is a film about humiliation as it is about the determination of the female spirit, black and white, and the men in the film deliberately weak to create that contrast. White mother Africa is played powerfully by Isabelle Huppert, uncomfortably poking a stick at that hornet nest in Africa that it was always and only white conservative commerce and regulation that would fix the continent but something Black African pride, not surprisingly, can no longer swallow. We, the west, back generals and psychopaths to run their countries to fill that vacuum of control and so why would they trust us, dictators kept in power with Learjet's, Bentleys and western arms deals to keep those precious metals and cash crops coming to the west at the right price. Maria's character refuses to accept this is the only game in town and believes in equality - hard work, not bigotry, the way to grow a nation and break down those barriers. That relationship between black and white is always palpable and this film really gets to the heart of that often cringing balance.

      It's a visually arresting film and you feel like you are those cowering white farmers facing the end of what you have always known as the chaos and violence sweep in to fill the void. Huppert's performance is a little frantic and unrealistic at times to express that deluded quality but she is magnetic on screen and makes the film her own. I was quite surprised to see anglophile Christofffffffffffff Lamberttttttttt (The Highlander) back on screen, here in his French persona (so not Christopher Lambert), as I had forgotten all about him since he wielded his magnificent sword. He is pretty rubbish in it.

      It's a good movie but not as good as the broadsheet plaudits on the DVD dust cover suggest, definitely flawed and one for art film fans. But I battled on and admired it for its atmosphere and message and can recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind the subtitles. The flashback sequencing throughout is not really needed as the actors are dressed the same in every scene anyway and the timeline not that relevant as this is less about the drama and more about the situation.
      But job done by the highly adored director Claire Dennis and a solid and intelligent visual representation of a popular book.


      ------The Critics-----

      BBC Film - "Simultaneously poetic, dramatic and realistic, "White Material" is an altogether stunning work"

      The LA Times - "It's a disorienting beautiful movie at times, which promises -- as Denis always does, I think -- that human madness and human love will balance each other out, in the fullness of time".

      The Guardian - "[Claire Denis's] tense, convulsive White Material is a portrait of change and a thing of terrible beauty.

      The Film Review - "A maddening movie that gives the viewer plenty to think about, but little to care about"

      The Independent - "White Material is the suffocating smoke of colonialist ideology billowing up into the air. White Material is the last gasp of Maria Vial. White Material is Claire Denis's striking line in the sand".


      -----Ratings------
      Imdb.com - 6.9/10.0 (2,421 votes)
      Metacritc.com - 81% critics approval rating
      Rottentomatos.com - 88% critics approval rating
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