DVD, Blu-Ray Move Review
Directed by Claire Denis, Written by Claire Denis, Marie N’Diaye, and Lucie Borieteau, 106 minutes, Unrated.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Claire Denis' "White Material" is not for the faint of heart. This film contains no joy, no redemption and no peace. It's an hour and forty-five minutes of horror, dissent and fear. Denis challenges her audience with a manic film that stops moving only to give them a chance to exhale.
Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), the owner of Vial Coffee Plantation, strives to keep her farm and business alive during an insurrection by local rebels. Trapped in her own interests, she ignores the ruthless rebels and corrupt public figures, as well as her restless son (Nicolas Duvauchelle). As these factors compound, Maria's life spirals out of control, putting what little she has in jeopardy.
While "White Material" has a dramatic build, the film begins in a state of total chaos and continues to grow from there. By opening in such disarray, the film is somewhat able to prepare us for the real horror to come. Yet, the film continues to push with an array of child rebels and intense violence captured by a visceral lens.
The tone that Denis sets is one of unrest. Her camera pans and swoops around the dust covered town, resolving on extreme close-ups of the sweaty, concerned faces of the cast. Appropriately, no one in the film ever looks relaxed. Maria's life falls apart before our eyes, while we wait to see if she can continue her plantation amidst the impending bloodshed.
Denis never shies from the film's violent side, putting the guns in the hands of a child's army devoid of rules, laws, or ethics. In the eyes of the rebels and government militia, there is no pity or remorse. They are characterized as monsters, and on screen, they appear as such. Likewise, Maria's desire to stay seems as crazed as the mercenaries thirst for blood. Neither gets much explanation, but Denis never promises answers--she merely shows life.
"White Material" is an extremely disorienting film that leaves the viewer in shambles. It starts at a horrific peak and climbs even further, daring the viewer to keep watching. At times, when Denis slows things down, the film's uncomfortable silences almost scream for action. This split in the action leaves little room for motivation or structure, but with a film this lawless and characters this amoral, it's only fitting that their actions not make complete sense.