Twenty-one years after her debut feature, Chocolat, Claire Denis returns to Africa with White Material, where civil war and desperation set in during the twilight of an unnamed French-colonial post. Isabelle Huppert plays the fearless Maria Vial, a towering force of will who blindly refuses to abandon her coffee plantation before finishing the harvest. Most of the plantation’s workers have fled, while both the government army and the rebels, including a band of child soldiers, are fast approaching from different directions. This enigmatic performance by Huppert, in which Denis mixes sensual and emotional flashbacks through a mix of dreams and nightmares, deeply examines the marks left on the human psyche and forefronts the effects of colonialism on the colonizers and the colonized.
About the Director
Claire Denis (b. 1946, France) began her career working on set in Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974). Her years working alongside Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch were crucial to her growth as a filmmaker before she directed her debut Chocolat (1988). Her next films I Can’t Sleep (1994) and Nénette et Boni (1996) interweave narratives inspired by the urban culture of Paris. Denis’s elliptical narrative and visual style received widespread acclaim with Beau Travail (1999) while Trouble Every Day (2001) made a shocking presentation in which Denis, regarded as an arthouse director, turned to the horror genre. The 2000s were significant for her career, which saw the release of Friday Night (2002), 35 Shots of Rum (2008), and White Material (2009). In 2022, Both Sides of the Blade and Stars at Noon won prizes at the Berlinale and Cannes respectively. Working closely with her long-time collaborators, such as cinematographer Agnès Godard and the rock band Tindersticks, Denis has contributed a diverse body of work to contemporary cinema.
Image at top: Claire Denis. White Material, 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Wild Bunch International