Posts tagged ‘Christophe Lambert’

June 11, 2013

DIY Cannes 2013: White Material

White MaterialTo stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #15: White Material

Director: Claire Denis

Her Cannes 2013 Movie: Bastards

If you are the one person reading these, then you’ve probably figured out I have a lot of blind spots in my filmography. Anything from Claire Denis is another shameful one. Well, White Material was a searing introduction to her filmography.

The “white material” in question refers to all of the stuff that white people bring to Africa. Watches, lighters, whatever. But now that foreigners are there, it can’t be undone. The luminous Isabelle Huppert is Maria Vial, the owner of her family’s coffee plantation in an unnamed West African country. I missed this detail when I watched the movie, but it turns out that she was born and raised on African soil and really identifies with it as her home. Her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) was also born there, but he is a bit of a lazy bum and doesn’t have the same connection with the land and the people that Maria seems to have.

As a civil war starts slowly erupting, the two sides quickly form, leaving Maria and her family a bit trapped in the middle. The French government implores her to leave. Her husband Andre (Christophe Lambert) is also set on evacuating. She denies efforts to be rescued and thus starts a long battle to keep her business afloat and stay alive.

This description makes the movie sound much more harrowing than it really is. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tense scenes, and there is a constant sense of danger. You truly never know if or when things are going to get heated. But my usual problem with movies that take place in Africa is that I can never get my bearings. Where are they? Is that far away from where they were before? But Denis manages to give you a great sense of not only the continent and the landscape, but also the towns, the plantation, the people. Her work is so specific that it becomes instantly accessible.

Huppert is infinitely watchable as always. She can command a scene simply by standing still. Everyone brings their A game and it really pays off. My one… piece of non-praise, because it isn’t an insult, is that I feel that I will forget this movie in 5 years. There was no one scene that grabbed me and the ins and outs of the plot at some point became irrelevant to the thematic sensibilities.  While some of the movies in my mini festival have just entertained and some have just made me think, White Material manages to do both seamlessly, yet the ripples made while I watched are now only infinitesimal vibrations in the back of my head. And that’s okay.