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Posts tagged ‘claire denis’


White Material

White Material (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Maria (Isabelle Huppert) was in charge of the Vial coffee plantation which was owned by her father-in-law (Michel Subor). Civil war and racial tension intensified outside of the plantation but Maria was convinced that she and her family, her ex-husband named André (Christopher Lambert) and her son named Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), would be safe within property lines. But when desperation was in the air, all rules were thrown out the window. Directed by Claire Denis, I didn’t warm up to “White Material” right away. I was initially confused with what was happening because the story started without providing a historical background. However, over time, I realized it didn’t need to because it really was more about how the Vial family responding to the chaos that threatened their very lives. The moment it got my attention was when two boys decided that they were going to murder Manuel as he closed his eyes while floating on water. Tension was extremely high during that scene because I cared about both parties. Their political beliefs didn’t matter to me. I cared about the possible murderer because they were just children. They may have thought they knew what they were doing but children’s minds are highly influenced by external factors. Propaganda was everywhere. Hate speech was on the radio, they gathered information from their peers, and it was possible that they had no parents to help them discern right from wrong. As for Manuel, late twenty-something, I cared about him, too. He might have been a tattooed slacker who never lent a hand in the plantation but he didn’t deserve to be hunted like an animal. What happened to him after the incident was devastating yet it was an excellent commentary about the political turmoil that Maria so desperately tried to ignore. Huppert was wonderful as a woman in utter denial. There was no doubt that I wanted to shake her, even slap her multiple times, to make her see that her actions were downright ill-advised. I understood that she loved the land and she considered Africa, not France, as her home. After all, Africa was where she gave birth and raised her son–she loved him completely, almost painfully, even though she didn’t exactly think he would turn out as someone who would let himself go. Huppert infused the right amount of pride, arrogance, and strength in her character. Her performance was restrained but the way she changed her body movements and facial expressions during crucial scenes made a lot of lasting impact on me. Her capacity for making mistakes was what made her relatable. Ambiguous, challenging but fascinating, “White Material” need not be admired but it certainly deserved to be talked about.


Beau Travail

Beau Travail (1999)
★ / ★★★★

This movie about French soldiers stationed in Djibouti left a big question mark in my head. At first I thought Claire Denis, the director, was trying to establish the characters via showing us the ennui of military life: from ironing clothes, making the perfect creases to the every day physical and mental training the soldiers had to endure. But half-way through the picture, nothing much changed and I felt myself becoming more and more frustrated with it. I wanted to know more about what made the characters tick. Instead, by the end of the picture, I couldn’t tell them apart (especially since they all have the same haircuts but that’s beside the point), I didn’t know anything about their motivations, and I didn’t know anything about their lives outside of the military. In a nutshell, it felt very one-dimensional. That feeling of detachment made me not care and watching the film was like pulling teeth. I’ve read some summaries from other reviews and they somehow found a story that the film tried to tell. Upon reading those reviews, I really felt like I watched a completely different movie because none of those descriptions matched what I saw (which was pretty much half-naked guys runnning around all over the desert). Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy movies that are stripped down with minimal dialogue but they have to have sort of emotional resonance. I didn’t find that in this picture despite my best efforts to look underneath the surface. The only scene that I genuinely enjoyed was the last when Denis Lavant broke into a dance. It felt like a huge sigh of relief because the rest of the movie felt so controlled, cold and tough. If they had more scenes like that, this train-wreck would’ve been saved. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.