White Material: An intensely satisfying African civil war story

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comMarch 12, 2014 

White Material takes place in an unnamed African country racked by civil war. The family of French woman Maria Vial owns a coffee plantation. Her worthless husband and teenage son do little, so she basically runs the place.

Maria's focus is getting the coffee crop harvested in spite of the war and a rebel leader holing up at her plantation. The hired help flee for fear of being caught in the clash of rebels and government troops. Now she has to figure out how to get the harvest done without them.

The plot is more complicated, but you get the gist. A definition is also in order. White material is anything owned by Caucasians who are viewed with great disdain by an unhappy native population.

Isabelle Huppert plays the single-minded Maria, and Christopher Lambert is her shifty husband, Andre. She's terrific and gives a great performance in a script that has little dialogue. Huppert is tenacity personified. You admire her, and eventually understand the unwillingness to abandon everything and run.

Co-writer/director Clare Denis does a fabulous job of telling this intense, often nail-chewing story. Dribbling out key elements of the plot in slow, tantalizing pieces, Denis hooks you and keeps you there. There are flaws, and most are found in the less than satisfactory climax.

Fortunately, the flaws are few, and Huppert's excellent work more than makes up for them.

Director: Clare Denis

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Not rated. Probably PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It plays Friday, March 14 only at the Battelle Auditorium at 8:00 p.m.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

-- Is Mr. Movie's position on these movies and others flawed? Let him know at www.tri-cityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.

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