71. “White Material”, Claire Denis (2009)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

White Material

White Material

dir. Claire Denis scr. Claire Denis and Marie NDiaye cin. Yves Cape with Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Lambert

In 100 words: The images of Isabelle Huppert standing in stark contrast to her sundried, fragile environment is quite an indelible statement on African colonialism—which is the essence of this complex and jagged film. A personal essay on identity, its malleability and its permutations, Material evinces a restless disquiet, with its hypnotic sounds and ever-roving camera, its narrative looseness, and its characters’ constant run-in with danger, often through their own stubborn refusal to do what’s good for them. It’s a ruthless depiction of imperialist arrogance, and the wretched effects of imperialism, made complicated by Denis’ sensual and sympathetic treatment of the subject.

Other Movies for Context: Denis is renowned for her singular take on imperialism and African identities, often noted for her sensual images of human bodies. Her peak, to many people, is Beau Travail (1999), which I have regrettably not seen. The only other Denis movie I’ve seen is 38 Shots of Rum (2008), a movie that depicts an African father and daughter who live in an integrated part of Paris. The film’s themes have often reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu’s films, but integrated with Denis’s distinct voice.

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