White Material (15)

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The Independent Culture

Montonous postcolonial guilt. As she did in The Sea Wall, Isabelle Huppert plays a woman clinging to the wreckage of her family's property in an African country convulsed by civil war.

Despite the rampaging militias on her doorstep she refuses to see the danger, and in her insouciant French style hires a crew of itinerant workers to help harvest the crop on her coffee plantation. Meanwhile, her husband (Christophe Lambert) cuts a shabby deal with the local mayor, her layabout son goes postal and a wounded rebel soldier (Isaach De Bankole) seeks refuge in her house from the resurgent army. The director Claire Denis shuffles timeframes to no great purpose, though her real error is failing to spot the insoluble contradiction in Huppert's character: how can a woman so resourceful be so blind to the realities around her? This becomes more baffling as the picture proceeds, and the flurry of scenes that constitute its ending feel wildly absurd: one bludgeoned killing absolutely defies explanation. The plangent guitar score by Stuart S Staples, however, is excellent.