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Criterion Collection: White Material [Blu-ray] (Version française) [Import]

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Product Details

  • Format: DTS Surround Sound, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC, Import
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Criterion
  • Release Date: April 12 2011
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Product Description

White Material(Cc(Br)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9b71c63c) out of 5 stars 17 reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b533edc) out of 5 stars Back To Africa--Sometimes You Have to Get Out While The Getting's Good Jan. 22 2011
By K. Harris - Published on
Format: DVD
There are some filmmakers that make you work a little harder as a viewer. This is certainly not a negative thing. There probably aren't enough films that require an audience to actively engage and be invested in the structure of what is presented. Having set several previous efforts against an African backdrop, writer/director Claire Denis returns to familiar terrain with "White Material." With its jumbled timeline and shifting narrative focus, "White Material" is classic Denis for good and, in some cases, bad. I frequently love Denis--"Beau Travail" being my personal favorite, but I know many people that are perpetually confounded by her work. "White Material" is a story you have to piece together as the film progresses. It's not particularly complex or confusing, however, it just takes a while to unfold the basic plot into a more recognizable format.

"White Material" centers around Isabelle Huppert as a coffee plantation wife. Set amidst an African country being ripped apart by Civil War, Huppert is struggling to bring in her crops even as her world is on the precipice. Refusing to leave, as she is being compelled to do so by everyone, you might say that she has more determination than good sense. Her husband is trying to make an escape plan, her son is losing his tenuous grasp on reality, and those closest to her are fleeing. Even with the rebels on top of her, she refuses to see the light. Needless to say, you probably don't need a map to chart the course of this grim story. Huppert, a fearless actress, is always compelling--but it's hard to elicit much sympathy for her plight with her cavalier disregard of the real world danger her family is in. Christopher Lambert (yes, from "Highlander" fame) is on hand as Huppert's husband, but it's Nicolas Duvauchelle who all but steals the picture as her increasingly unhinged son!

In an unusual choice, Denis provides almost no context for "White Material." Set in an unnamed African country during an unspecified timeframe (presumably it's contemporary), this lack of identification keeps the viewer oddly detached from the brutality in the film. Without historical, social, or political background--there is no distinguishing between the struggle of the rebels versus the fight of the militia. Perhaps this was Denis' intention, but it causes a remoteness from the onscreen drama. The only thing we know for sure is that Huppert and clan have no place in the new world order--whichever side ends up the victor. The only one who obstinately refuses to see this point is Huppert herself.

The Criterion presentation includes features such as new interviews with Denis and actors Huppert and Isaach de Bankolé, a short documentary by Denis on the film's premiere at the Écrans Noirs Film Festival 2010 in Cameroon, and a deleted scene. If you aren't familiar with Denis' work, I'm not sure that "White Material" is the place to start. I admired much of the film but remained strangely apathetic to everyone in the movie. In the end, there's no one to root for and no one you've come to identify with....and that leaves a chilly detachment at the end of what might have been a harrowing and powerful examination of the death of European colonialism. While I have decidedly mixed feelings about "White Material," I definitely recommend revisiting past Denis (in fact, love to see a couple of titles for sure picked up by Criterion!) 3 1/2 stars, I'll round up for the inspired performance by Duvauchelle. KGHarris, 1/11.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b533f30) out of 5 stars Resistance: When All Else Fails April 28 2011
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format: DVD
WHITE MATERIAL (the term is defined as all things owned by or being 'white' in a black culture) is a strange little film by the highly respected Claire Denis who wrote (with Marie N'Diaye and Lucie Borleteau) and directed this rather timeless, non-specifically placed study of disintegration of family and life somewhere in Africa. Perhaps not giving a time frame or more information about the politics of the place where this film takes place is meant to metaphorical, but for many viewers it will make the story more of a conundrum than is necessary.

Maria Vial (the extraordinary actress Isabelle Huppert) runs a coffee plantation owned by her father-in-law Henri (Michel Subor): the plantation has seen better economic days and Maria's former husband André (Christophe Lambert) who not only offers no help to the plantation but is trying to sell it before it goes bankrupt: Andrés also has taken another woman Lucie (Adèle Ado) and has a young son by her. Maria's only child Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a tattooed loser and probably his unstable mind is due to drug abuse. So it is Maria by herself that is in charge of the plantation.

There is a political uprising with rebels, led by Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), destroying all the white material seen to be the evil of the country. Maria sides with Boxer, protecting him from the ruling corrupt government, and as the people Maria has employed on her plantation flee because of the insurrection, Maria is repeatedly warned to return to France - an idea she finds repugnant and will do anything to save her land. She gathers a few frightened people to harvest her coffee beans, but as she is processing the beans she uncovers a severed goat head in the beans - a sign of doom. Maria must fight to save her home and in the end her choices are altered by a vile deed that shows how far she has fallen in her attempt to change her personal destiny: she has lost her business, her son has gone completely mad, and her former husband and her father-in-law fail to aid her plight. Even giving aid to Boxer, the chief of the rebels, fails to alter her plight.

The film is confusing in that there is not enough history or information about place so that the message seems to be that all of Africa is always in turmoil and that the conflict between blacks and whites is a constant. Real history does not support that act and the reality of the people of that continent deserve better, Isabelle Huppert is always outstanding, but even in this situation her character is a bit monotonous. The musical by Stuart Staples is outstanding, possibly the best aspect of this film that could have been much better. In French with English subtitles. Grady Harp, April 11
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1a7384) out of 5 stars A poetic picture Feb. 26 2011
By Slowcloud - Published on
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
This film handily surpassed everything I saw this year--pure poetry in cinema. When a ragtag group of child soldiers emerges from the jungle brush to a melancholy jazz-like tune by Tindersticks, I could not help but think, These are the true Lost Boys. Shot for shot, Claire Denis' film blew me away with its composition. Rarely have I heard so much spoken in imagery alone. The only time the movie may have dragged for me was when there was dialogue.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1a736c) out of 5 stars Dénouement of French Colonialism à la "Apocalypse Now" July 24 2011
By Stephen C. Bird - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I saw this film when it first came out, and have now viewed it for a second time. There is an atmosphere of menace in this picture that is immediately recognizable, that becomes increasingly palpable as the film progresses. As the picture gains momentum, the characters surrounding the defiantly determined Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), begin to play out their personal vendettas and the dominoes start to fall. There are creepy scenes with child soldiers stealthily entering the dwellings of the plantation compound, taking jewelry, clothes and whatever else they find to be of value. Everyone is under surveillance, hiding in plain sight, fearing for their lives; the African soldiers are killing not just the whites, but also their own people as anarchy descends.

Isabelle Huppert, as Maria, gives an understated performance; in an interview featured on the supplemental material of this DVD, she explains that Maria does not show any emotion. Maria is described, on the back cover of the DVD, as being "ferocious" and a "crazed character". But after watching Huppert's performance, neither of those descriptions seem appropriate. Maria is tenacious yet impassive; it's as if the high stakes of Maria's situation demand stoicism. It is not until near the end of the film, when her world has collapsed, that we see any evidence of her being crazed or ferocious. Huppert's performance is one of quiet desperation, of internal crumbling, of someone refusing to recognize the harsh reality confronting her. Huppert is a chameleon who blends into the ambiance of any picture she appears in; she achieves this in "White Material" as well.

Christophe Lambert also gives a strong and understated performance as André, Maria's husband, who is afraid and urgently suggests to Maria that they escape the plantation; and yet he is also trapped. The frightening breakdown of Manuel, Maria's spoiled brat son (portrayed by Nicolas Duvauchelle) is another crucial aspect of the film; hs is the primary underminer, who through his destructive actions, initiates and increases the momentum of the downward spiral of the plantation. In the final twenty minutes of the film, Maria puts on a pink dress, which functions as a metaphor for her fragility. The score by Tindersticks, composed specifically for this picture, provides a moody, alternative counterpoint that underlines the atmosphere of desolation. Highlights of the supplemental material of this DVD include interviews with Claire Denis, who I found to be compelling in person; and with Isabelle Huppert (that I already mentioned), in which she discusses her character Maria.

I have not seen any other pictures by Claire Denis, and so I cannot compare this film to her other work. After seeing "White Material", I would classify her as a documentarian of a brutal hyperreality, which manifests in "White Material" as the death and destruction that moves like a wildfire across the countryside to devour the Vial coffee plantation and the world of Maria Vial and her family. Based on the strength of "White Material", I am interested in seeing Claire Denis' other films.

Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Hideous Exuberance"
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c1a7738) out of 5 stars missed potential as a film but an extraordinary performance by Isabelle Huppert April 14 2011
By Mark bennett - Published on
Format: DVD
This had the potential to be a good film. Stubborn Maria Vial and her family refuse to leave their African planatation even as it becomes the frontline in an African civil war. Isabelle Huppert gives an outstanding performance. Unfortunately for her, the script she is given is rather uneven. It has a tendency to veer away from an honest realism into nonsense.

The parts dealing with Maria's obsesion to save the plantation and its coffee crop against all sense recalls a great many other films about farmers and their struggle for their land. She plays tough convincingly in a way that most other actresses could not. And they really capture the collapse of order in a war zone quite well. The film is unusually honest toward its African characters. There is no sentimentality about it which is unusual in itself.

But where the film falls down is that the script wants to exact moral vengence on the "family" owning the plantation probably for political reasons. And so for no particular reason her son suddenly goes all Kurtz from Heart of Darkness. Her ex-husband (why exactly in story terms its necessary for him to be an ex-husband is beyond vague) plans to flee but inexplicably doesn't flee. And toward the very end, Maria commits an act that its completely inexplicable in terms of the story the characters. All the vengence on the family undercuts everything that was done well in the film.

Then there is the character of "the boxer". The legendary rebel leader who Maria, without any sense/reason or explation suddenly decides to shelter within her home. None of the other characters or the family members seem to even participate in the decision. No explaination is given for why this is happening. It only seems to serve as an excuse for the army to come and kill everyone.

The best points the film makes, it seems to make in spite of itself. The Vials don't come across as exploiters or even aliens in the country. They come across as people without means caught in a war zone. While some would inexplicably identify with idiotic rebel army and its child soldiers as bringing some kind of justice, that film doesn't seem to say that at all. The corrupt local mayor is far richer than the "white material" and will be more of a ruthless exploiter of the locals than the Vials were when he takes the plantation for himself. And the death of the Pharmacist in town is also important. She is as foolish and stubborn as Maria is for similar reasons. And her pointless death undercuts any notion that the problems in the story are racial or colonial.

Where the film is a miss is that it fails to show the reality that while colonialism in terms of farmers of modest means from Europe is over, colonialism in terms of massive international corporations operating in Africa is alive and well. While the Vials are "obsolete", the colonial enterprise is alive and well. Wealth is extracted from Africa by far more efficient means than those represented by the Vials. Modern explotation is done from secure compounds or on remote control from a western hotel in the capital.

The craft of the film is excellent in terms of capturing the look and feel of Africa. Isabelle Huppert's performance is beyond excellent. But the script should have been more like "places of the heart" or "the river". A dark ending would have been appropriate, but the confusing and almost nosensical way the film ended didn't do justice to all the good elements in it.