Wednesday, July 16, 2014

White Material (2009)

Director: Claire Denis
Writers:  Claire Denis, Marie N'Diaye
Cast:       Isabella Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Issach De Bankole
Language:French

A white family which owns a coffee plantation in an unnamed post-colonial African country finds themselves in the midst of a civil war. The husband is trying to get his family out of the country whilst the wife (Isabella Huppert) is worried about the unharvested coffee beans.

If you read the synopsis you kind of expect a predictable film along either of the following lines: 1) Africans cannot run things without their white masters and it is really a case of white man's burden 2) White people in the film is caught up in the violence with the rebels justified in the actions against the post colonial ruling elite. Since Claire Denis is behind the film it does not fall in either of these categories. It doesn't have a big message. All the three sets: White Family (Referred to as White Material in the film), the rebels and the ruling elite militia are kind of neutral in the sense that all of them are equally despicable. 

Isabelle Huppert's character is running the plantation and that is the only life she wants. She refuses to see the warning signs willingly. It was funny to see Roger Ebert in his review describe her as a courageous fighter whilst throughout the film I was wondering how incredibly naive she was. One will be reminded of the hippies, anti-capitalists, humanitarians who naively think that people left to their own devices are capable of living in a communal way with equality for all. The only character for whom I felt some degree of sympathy was the husband played by Christoper Lambert. 

It is a great watch but might not be suitable for everyone. If you are expecting something conventional where you are told whom to sympathize for, then its not for you. For the very reasons that I like this film, some people will hate it.

Rating: 4/5