Not quite enough material

Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Lambert, in search of a plot


Have you been to the Shattuck Theater lately?  They’ve redone the place, and the chairs are these large, reclining comfortable wonders that remind me of a first class airline seat.  The armrests are so wide you don’t need to fight your neighbor for them, and the built in cupholders are in just he right place.

The bad news is that the chairs were the  best thing about going to see White Material this afternoon.

As many foreign films as Gail and I see, we are pretty accustomed to the slower pacing and exposition.  But when you can’t stay awake looking at Isabelle Huppert, there’s something wrong with the movie.

White Material , set in an un-named, generic African nation, is the story of a plantation owner, Huppert, who clings relentlessly to her farm and its ready-to-pick crop despict the massive civil unrest that has the French Army leaving, dropping survival kits from their helicopter as they urge her to flee. All the African clichés are here: there is the typical corrupt mayor, the children’s army of rebels, children too young to understand the meaning of the death they so easily dole out.  The honest shopkeepers, trying to protect their pharmacy, slaughtered for their drugs.  The ex-husband (Lambert) who has gone native with a local wife and son.  The obese plantation owner luxuriating in his tiled bath.  The crazy son, who goes completely mad and joins the rebels.  If only there was a discernible plot, or rationale, or something to make all this hang together in some interesting fashion.

David Denby, reviewing this movie for The New Yorker, said it was:


Dreadful, in an aimless, intentionally disjointed way that some people have mistaken for art.


Not everyone hated it.  Somehow White Material managed to earn a 90 on the Tomatometer, meaning 90% of newspaper reviewers gave positive reports.  I can only think of the story of the Emperors New Clothes–there just isn’t enough material here.



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