Universal acclaim - based on 26 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 21 Ratings

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  • Starring: , ,
  • Summary: The regular army is preparing to reestablish order in the country. To clean up. To eliminate the rebel officer also known as The Boxer and rid the countryside of roving child soldiers. All the expatriates have gone home, getting out before things turn nasty. Of the Vials - coffee planters who have lived here for two generations - Maria stands firm. She’s not about to give in to rumors or abandon her harvest at the first sound of gunfire. Just like her father-in-law and her ex-husband who is also the father of her son (a little too much of a slacker in her opinion) she is convinced that Cherif,
    mayor of the neighboring town, will protect them. If she asks him, he will save the plantation. He has a personal guard, a private militia of tough guys, heavily armed and well trained. (IFC Films)
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 23 out of 26
  2. Negative: 0 out of 26
  1. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    Dec 14, 2010
    Ms. Denis has an extraordinary gift for finding the perfect image that expresses her ideas, the cinematic equivalent of what Flaubert called le mot juste.
  2. Reviewed by: Stan Hall
    Dec 16, 2010
    The result is somewhat elliptical but also thoroughly engrossing and propulsive. Compared to Denis' earlier work, it's practically an action movie.
  3. Reviewed by: Jay Weissberg
    Dec 14, 2010
    Structurally, White Material unfolds like a novel, undoubtedly partly due to the work of Denis' co-scripter, author Marie N'Diaye. That said, it's still very much a Denis film, not just in the complexity of the characters and their motivations -- Huppert shoulders the narrative effortlessly, her strength and direction unwavering -- but in the framework and editing.
  4. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    Dec 14, 2010
    This haunting drama by Claire Denis burns with a mute fear and rage at the ongoing atrocities in central Africa.
  5. Reviewed by: Elizabeth Weitzman
    Dec 14, 2010
    As Claire Denis' stunning new movie reminds us, she expects a lot of her audience but gives considerably more in return.
  6. Reviewed by: V.A. Musetto
    Dec 14, 2010
    The result is as impressive as one would expect.
  7. Reviewed by: Keith Uhlich
    Dec 14, 2010
    What starts as an intriguing reverie ends as a hollow allegory.

See all 26 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 6
  2. Negative: 3 out of 6
  1. Jan 13, 2011
    This is raw brilliant film work,created by someone who knows the inner workings of Africa and knows how to recreate scenes of merciless bloodshed,brutality and countries & families being torn apart . .I'm really laughing at the previous evaluations, typical ignorance that leads to bad reviews. I'm a Caucasian born in Africa,and know only too well this " nonsensical" incomprehensible" violence in Africa,to me it makes a lot of sense, it's the way the rest of the world likes to maintain their African slave continent,as to....
    " all the characters looking the same ;) " I rest my case. Come to Africa is all I can say,get the full flavor
  2. Jun 27, 2011
    This is a pretty asinine movie.The usually reliable Huppert lets herself get put in a movie that is full of pretentious angst ridden idiocy. Huppert does well enough as an obsessive coffee plantation owner who insists on rounding up locals for labor (after everyone has fled) in spite of being smack in the midst of a murederous civil war, somewhere in a former French African colony. To her getting in the harvest trumps saving lives. Her poor evolutionary strategy is passed on to her son, in spades. I can't even get into this ridiculous character, but in the end he shaves off his hair and joins the rebels, and mercifully gets smoked to death. It's all mean to be a metaphor for self centered colonialism, but it's so full of silly white folk pursuing their own stupidity that it's a wonder that the French colonies weren't a bust after on year. Expand
  3. Lyn
    Jul 2, 2011
    "You're insane," someone says to Isabel Huppert's character. Yes, but so is everyone else in this frustrating movie -- insanely menacing, insanely violent, or insanely clueless. I enjoyed the dusty atmospherics of the African setting, and the buildup of tension was well-done. But it's hard to take the lead character seriously when she's so blind about everything from the threatening politics of her situation to what's happening with her own son. Couldn't help but think of a missionary family of my acquaintance, whose teenage son perceptively worked out a plan to cope/escape from his boarding school, should things blow up in the part of Africa where they were stationed. By contrast with that kid, Huppert's character seems imperceptive to the point of stupidity. Expand
  4. Dec 16, 2010
    I really did not enjoy watching this movie. I was very disappointed, particularly since the critics had given it great reviews. I am sure part of the problem is mine: I am really not that knowledgeable about French colonial west Aftrican history. However, even so, I had an extremely hard time figuring out what was going on because there were so many flashbacks and flashforwards. Also, there were no sympathetic characters in the movie. Everyone was crazy: the protagonist was crazy trying to get one last coffee harvest while a brutal civil was was taking place, her son was mad, her husband was crazy, and of course, both sides of the civil war were crazy. I also had difficulty trying to keep track of the characters, as many seemed to look a alike, and there was no character development. I think this is just one of those movies that the critics adore, but the general audience finds incomprehensible. Expand
  5. Mar 27, 2012
    Although the film exhibits visual mastery in capturing the brutality and destitution of an African nation in the midst of civil war, and makes excellent use of music and silence, these technical virtues are far overshadowed by its narrative failings. 'White Material' succeeds in shocking its audience with scenes of both graphic and implicit violence, but the narrative focus of the movie undermines the value of these scenes as vehicles for social enlightenment; 'White Material' is not at all about the social issues of Africa. These are tangential. Instead, it follows the story of a French white woman, Maria Vial, managing a failing coffee plantation against the advice of every single person in the goddamn film. There are plenty of African natives with much more poignant situations than said-stupid white woman, but they are only given cursory characterization, really only enough so that you recognize them when they die. The madness of Vial nicely parallels the madness in the world around her, but parallelism is also the film's biggest problem: the main character's insane course runs parallel to the backdrop of the civil war in a strangely detached manner, providing no insight into any of the themes at hand. Vial's story might have been compelling had it been set somewhere else, but her angst is relatively insignificant in the context of a third-world nation at war with itself. Ironically, 'White Material' is in the end nothing more than pointless, self-interested, white material, only of value to those who have somehow, through the course of their own moral development, remained completely ignorant of the African continent. Expand
  6. Jan 8, 2011
    I agree with Evan. I just finished watching this movie and found it almost unbearable. My girlfriend enjoys movies with "strong female leads" but this one takes it too far. The Isabelle Huppert character made no sense to me. Overall, the movie was more or less nonsensical, violent, and could even be said to glorify colonialism -- although that just might be me and my EHM political views.

    In a way, the movie also reminded me of Tara and Gone With the Wind, another movie that glorified the plantations of the past.

    This is the kind of movie that gives foreign films a bad name. And it is a shame that the critics seem to be falling for it.