Saturday, January 01, 2011

Lambert & Huppert in "White Material"

"There can be only one..."

...01 / 01 / 11
How about that funky date today? Happy New Year.

The New Year couldn't come soon enough because I was informed yesterday that this blog had run out of storage space! The renovated site should be up in the next 36 hours to rescue us. I'll let you know.

Today's very special once in a hundred years date reminded me oof Highlander's Christopher Lambert.  On account of all the #1s.
"There can be only one!"
I assume this mnemonic moment was brought to me by Claire Denis's White Material which I was just watching the other day (in theaters and on IFC on demand) in which he plays Isabelle Huppert's ex-husband who -- I'm not sure if I got the details right because Denis always makes you work for them -- still lives on the African coffee plantation with her (and his new wife and his two wildly contrasted sons from both marriages).

It's crazy enough to live with your ex. When your ex is Isabelle Huppert (she's always trouble) and you're running a plantation in a region that's slipping into violent chaos and the French military are helicoptering out and dropping you survival kits on their way, you are totally off your gourd. Everyone in this movie is insane. But Huppert is contagious like that.

Lambert's presence is an extremely clever bit of casting since the international star already famously embodied everyone's favorite white-man-rules-Africa imperialist fantasy in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes. In White Material there is no fantasy unless you count the delirium one can sometimes experience when faced with Huppert's riveting confrontational opacity. You'd expect, given the plot, that her plantation owner Maria is a stubborn delusional but Huppert tilts her closer to the implacably deterministic. She isn't flaunting a death wish so much as a death expectation. Rebel forces and their child soldiers have had it with this "white material" on their land but Maria is staying put.  Disturbing movie.

"Manuel" (Nicholas Duvauchelle). Does he get his death wish from his mother?

I can't say I fully connected but I always love Denis's reliable command of atmosphere and I appreciated what Guy Lodge correctly described as "laudably complicated politics". I'm desperately awaiting Nick's full review because his twitter capsule
Agonized and fearless, eerily sympathetic, formally electric, like the last visions of someone being burned alive
...makes me love the movie more in retrospect than when I was watching it. That happens sometimes with the best of film criticism.


Paul D said...

I thought this was an excellent film, though admittedly the conflicting African politics were not always that easy to follow. Claire Denis is certainly one of the most critically favored directors working today and her rather nuanced style of filmmaking, although not as much in this film, is always interesting to watch.

Ryan said...

re: updated screenings/grades

yes, LOVE & OTHER DRUGS is a total mess--in tone, ideas and never quite earns the emotional gravity behind its thematic content. Hathaway may be mediocre but I maintain my high regard for Jake’s lovely arch from shallow womanizer to grounded partner with all the actor’s trademark charm and goofiness used to full effect. And while the focus on his admittedly delicious-looking bare ass wins him (and the film) major points in my book, it's also *the performance* that keeps the film from being errantly unwatchable.

- glad you liked WHITE MATERIAL. Huppert was astonishing as usual (dear god was last year an amazing one for women--both leading and supporting!). i liked the film too (and LOVE Claire Denis) but it doesn’t hold a candle to BEAU TRAVAIL.

p.s. Nathaniel, as painfully eager as i am for your top 10 list/ Film Bitch award nominees, i’d suggest you screen DOGTOOTH (available now on and in the US on Jan. 25). it’s *such* an incredible film

Kevin said...

Wait, the new site WAS up! I commented on it!


Kevin -- yeah, it's coming in and out. they said 36 hours so should be some time tomorrow.

ryan -- i frankly couldn't believe it after the initial buzz. it was SUCH a mess. but they did look great together. asses and all ;)

and also. agreed that White Material isn't in the same league as Beau Travail but definitely worth seeing.

fbh said...

One of my favorite things about this film (and Claire Denis) is that it didn't seem to have an agenda. It definitely could have been a film that tried to make you feel a certain way or stand behind a particular character, but I don't think that it was. I love films that make me feel conflicted. Who am I supposed to "root" for? Sometimes, it's nice not to choose a side.

Can't wait to see what you have to say about Mother.

Andrew R. said...

My 2011 had better improve fast. No movies seen yet because of a stomach virus.

Maybe I should write my Top 25 list and cheer myself up.