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White Material (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

16 customer reviews

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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

In White Material, the great contemporary French filmmaker Claire Denis (Chocolat, Beau travail), known for her restless, intimate dramas, introduces an unforgettably crazed character. Played ferociously by Isabelle Huppert (Story of Women, The Piano Teacher), Maria is an entitled white woman living in Africa, desperately unwilling to give up her family’s crumbling coffee plantation despite the civil war closing in on her. Created with Denis’ signature full-throttle visual style, which places the viewer in the center of the maelstrom, White Material is a gripping evocation of the death throes of European colonialism and a fascinating look at a woman lost in her own mind.

Special Features

New digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Claire Denis and cinematographer Yves Cape, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

New interviews with Denis and actors Isabelle Huppert and Isaach de Bankolé

Short documentary by Denis on the film’s premiere at the Écrans Noirs Film Festival 2010 in Cameroon

Deleted scene

Theatrical trailer

New and improved English subtitle translation

PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film writer Amy Taubin

Product Details

  • Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Isaach De Bankole, William Nadylam
  • Directors: Claire Denis
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: April 12, 2011
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,291 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on January 22, 2011
Format: DVD
There are some filmmakers that make you work a little harder as a viewer. This is certainly not a negative thing. There probably aren't enough films that require an audience to actively engage and be invested in the structure of what is presented. Having set several previous efforts against an African backdrop, writer/director Claire Denis returns to familiar terrain with "White Material." With its jumbled timeline and shifting narrative focus, "White Material" is classic Denis for good and, in some cases, bad. I frequently love Denis--"Beau Travail" being my personal favorite, but I know many people that are perpetually confounded by her work. "White Material" is a story you have to piece together as the film progresses. It's not particularly complex or confusing, however, it just takes a while to unfold the basic plot into a more recognizable format.

"White Material" centers around Isabelle Huppert as a coffee plantation wife. Set amidst an African country being ripped apart by Civil War, Huppert is struggling to bring in her crops even as her world is on the precipice. Refusing to leave, as she is being compelled to do so by everyone, you might say that she has more determination than good sense. Her husband is trying to make an escape plan, her son is losing his tenuous grasp on reality, and those closest to her are fleeing. Even with the rebels on top of her, she refuses to see the light. Needless to say, you probably don't need a map to chart the course of this grim story. Huppert, a fearless actress, is always compelling--but it's hard to elicit much sympathy for her plight with her cavalier disregard of the real world danger her family is in.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2011
Format: DVD
WHITE MATERIAL (the term is defined as all things owned by or being 'white' in a black culture) is a strange little film by the highly respected Claire Denis who wrote (with Marie N'Diaye and Lucie Borleteau) and directed this rather timeless, non-specifically placed study of disintegration of family and life somewhere in Africa. Perhaps not giving a time frame or more information about the politics of the place where this film takes place is meant to metaphorical, but for many viewers it will make the story more of a conundrum than is necessary.

Maria Vial (the extraordinary actress Isabelle Huppert) runs a coffee plantation owned by her father-in-law Henri (Michel Subor): the plantation has seen better economic days and Maria's former husband André (Christophe Lambert) who not only offers no help to the plantation but is trying to sell it before it goes bankrupt: Andrés also has taken another woman Lucie (Adèle Ado) and has a young son by her. Maria's only child Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a tattooed loser and probably his unstable mind is due to drug abuse. So it is Maria by herself that is in charge of the plantation.

There is a political uprising with rebels, led by Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), destroying all the white material seen to be the evil of the country. Maria sides with Boxer, protecting him from the ruling corrupt government, and as the people Maria has employed on her plantation flee because of the insurrection, Maria is repeatedly warned to return to France - an idea she finds repugnant and will do anything to save her land. She gathers a few frightened people to harvest her coffee beans, but as she is processing the beans she uncovers a severed goat head in the beans - a sign of doom.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Slowcloud on February 26, 2011
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
This film handily surpassed everything I saw this year--pure poetry in cinema. When a ragtag group of child soldiers emerges from the jungle brush to a melancholy jazz-like tune by Tindersticks, I could not help but think, These are the true Lost Boys. Shot for shot, Claire Denis' film blew me away with its composition. Rarely have I heard so much spoken in imagery alone. The only time the movie may have dragged for me was when there was dialogue.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Bird on July 24, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I saw this film when it first came out, and have now viewed it for a second time. There is an atmosphere of menace in this picture that is immediately recognizable, that becomes increasingly palpable as the film progresses. As the picture gains momentum, the characters surrounding the defiantly determined Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), begin to play out their personal vendettas and the dominoes start to fall. There are creepy scenes with child soldiers stealthily entering the dwellings of the plantation compound, taking jewelry, clothes and whatever else they find to be of value. Everyone is under surveillance, hiding in plain sight, fearing for their lives; the African soldiers are killing not just the whites, but also their own people as anarchy descends.

Isabelle Huppert, as Maria, gives an understated performance; in an interview featured on the supplemental material of this DVD, she explains that Maria does not show any emotion. Maria is described, on the back cover of the DVD, as being "ferocious" and a "crazed character". But after watching Huppert's performance, neither of those descriptions seem appropriate. Maria is tenacious yet impassive; it's as if the high stakes of Maria's situation demand stoicism. It is not until near the end of the film, when her world has collapsed, that we see any evidence of her being crazed or ferocious. Huppert's performance is one of quiet desperation, of internal crumbling, of someone refusing to recognize the harsh reality confronting her. Huppert is a chameleon who blends into the ambiance of any picture she appears in; she achieves this in "White Material" as well.
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White Material (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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