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

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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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
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: April 12, 2011
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004JPJHLA
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,747 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 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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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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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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Format: DVD
As of this very moment I have only seen two films by South African native Claire Denis (`White Material' and '50 Shots of Rum') and both films are cinematic marvels; true masterpieces. Of the two, I think that I prefer `White Material', a film that is equal parts shocking and aggressive as well as soft and intimate.

`White Material' tells the story of Maria Vial, a woman running a coffee plantation in South Africa during civil unrest. As violence closes in around Maria and her family, she balks at the cautions directed at her and continues to persist in her everyday affairs, despite beings met with opposition from all fronts. The scenario definitely plays with her sanity, especially as the war surrounding her starts to take devastating effect on those she loves and tries to protect. With her husband turning on her and her son delving into his own state of madness, Maria is forced to fight alone, but her fighting spirit can only take her so far.

All is lost.

Instead of dampening the film with details that take us out of the story in an attempt to expound upon it, Claire Denis takes a more simplistic approach, allowing the impact of the characters themselves to envelope the audience. As some have already mentioned, there is no backdrop given here. We are simply dropped into a situation and left to fend for ourselves to make heads or tails of it. That could have been a very bad thing had the direction not been so sharply effective. Instead of feeling confused and or befuddled, Denis paints a rather straightforward picture that needs to backstory to feel intimate and provocative. The lack of detail leaves a lasting stain of chaos that effortlessly soaks into the fabric of the tale being told.
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