MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** White Material (2009)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s a dark, cold movie, that has an impact that I appreciated, while being in no hurry to experience anything else like it again any time soon.”

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The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

“Whiteness brings unhappiness.”

Making a good movie with likeable characters that the audience cares for is hard enough.  Making a good movie when none of your main characters have any real redeeming qualities is almost impossible.  Or maybe I should replace the word “good” with “satisfying”.  It’s a lot easier to make your audience care about the story you’re telling if you give them a protagonist they can get behind.  But building a movie around someone who it’s hard to cheer for, but still making it seem like their story matters, can lead to an un expected and rarely experienced pay off.  Which is what I got with White Material.

In a non specific African nation, French plantation owner Maria (Isabelle Huppert) has a coffee crop ready to harvest.  But with rebel soldiers decimating their way across the region, the local army is encouraging everyone to evacuate.  Determined not to let the lucrative crop go to waste, Maria decides to stay, and heads into the local village recruiting men to help with the harvest.

At home is her lay about, young adult son, Nicolas Duvauchelle as Manuel.  But his laziness is revealed to be the least of his problems when a run in with some children rebel soldiers shows the troubling levels of his questionable mental stability.  And if the rebel raiders and nutbag son aren’t enough for Maria to worry about, there’s also her ex husband (Christopher Lambert as Andre), doing dirty deals to save himself by trying to sell the plantation from under her.

That quick description probably makes it sound like an empowering story, of Maria overcoming adversity and asserting her strength and independence.  Which it kind of is, but the surprising part is that Maria isn’t really fueled by any noble intentions.  She’s just a greedy bitch who wants her money and is willing to walk all over the native inhabitants of the land, and anyone else who gets in her way, to get it.

But it’s not just Maria who’s unlikable in White Material.  The movie is deliberately ambiguous about the rebels and government soldiers, with neither being portrayed as the good guys.  I can’t think of a single character in White Material who I wanted to emerge victorious.  But at the same time, I always felt like there was a real significance to every choice they made and the consequences of those choices.
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White Material is a very specific kind of movie that has no other similar movies that I can compare it to.  And while I found it really affective, I don’t really want to see more movies like this.  It’s a dark, cold movie, that has an impact that I appreciated, while being in no hurry to experience anything else like it again any time soon.

White Material
Directed By – Pascale Ferran
Written By – Guillaume Bréaud, Pascale Ferran

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Bird People?
The Guardian
Roger Ebert

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