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White Material (2009)

Not Rated | | Drama, War | 24 March 2010 (France)
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Amidst turmoil and racial conflict in a Francophone African state, a white French woman fights for her coffee crop, her family and ultimately for her life.

Director:

Claire Denis

Writers:

Claire Denis (scenario), Marie N'Diaye (scenario) | 1 more credit »
1 win & 10 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Isabelle Huppert ... Maria Vial
Christopher Lambert ... André Vial (as Christophe Lambert)
Nicolas Duvauchelle ... Manuel Vial
William Nadylam ... Chérif, le maire
Michel Subor ... Henri Vial, le propriétaire
Isaach De Bankolé ... Le Boxeur
Adèle Ado Adèle Ado ... Lucie, la femme d'André
Ali Barkai Ali Barkai ... Jeep, le chef des enfants rebelles
Jean-Marie Ahanda Jean-Marie Ahanda
Martin Poulibe Martin Poulibe
Patrice Eya Patrice Eya
Serge Mong Serge Mong
Mama Njouam Mama Njouam
Thomas Dumerchez Thomas Dumerchez
Christine-Ange Tatah Christine-Ange Tatah
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Storyline

Denis revisits Africa, this time exploring a place rife with civil and racial conflict. A white French family outlawed in its home and attempting to save its coffee plantation connects with a black hero also embroiled in the tumult. All try to survive as their world rapidly crumbles around them Written by Pusan International Film Festival

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Spellbinding! See more »

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site [France]

Country:

France | Cameroon

Language:

French

Release Date:

24 March 2010 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Balta medziaga See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$34,613, 21 November 2010, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$302,819, 30 January 2011
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The title Chocolat comes from the 1950's slang meaning 'to be cheated' and refers to the status in French Cameroon of being black and being cheated from white people and their possessions. See more »

Goofs

The position of the goat's head in the coffee beans changes between shots. See more »

Connections

Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #1.13 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Jah Give Us Life (Don't Feel No Way)
Written by W. Matthews
Performed by Wailing Souls
See more »

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User Reviews

 
What happens when the place you consider home rejects you?
4 September 2011 | by PoppyTransfusionSee all my reviews

The setting for the film is a West African, French-speaking country riven by civil unrest and fighting between the army and rebels who consist of children, many orphaned. The rebels' icon and unofficial leader is a former soldier known as The Boxer (a cameo from Isaach de Bankole). Directed by Clare Denis she presents the country's unravelling situation and uses a non-linear narrative to loop back and forth within the 48-hour period that is the story's time frame.

Amidst the mayhem we are slowly introduced to the owners of a coffee plantation, who are a white family of French origins: Maria Vial (Huppert), her ex-husband Andre (Lambert), their son Manuel and his grandfather Bernard. Living with the family is Andre's second wife/partner Lucie and their son Jose. At the point we meet the family they are 5 days from coffee harvest and their workers are fleeing the plantation afraid for their lives. They leave to return home because 'coffee is just coffee and not worth dying for'. Maria does not feel the same way and recruits some replacement workers to ensure a successful harvest. Meanwhile Andre, who shares the workers' fears, is plotting the family's escape which means selling the plantation to the local mayor who will ensure their safe passage out of the country. This is kept from Maria who has vowed never to leave.

As events unfold it is obvious to everyone around Maria that the situation is becoming less stable and increasingly precarious. She refuses to see or acknowledge this. Interspersed throughout we hear a DJ allied to the rebels, used as a sort of narrator, playing reggae and making pronouncements against the existing government and white people, who are the 'white material' of the title.

The film's narrative and characters make it difficult for the viewer to apprehend what is happening immediately and/or to like/relate to the characters easily. This is part of its success: the situation and people we are presented with are complex. Although of French origin and white we learn that Bernard and Manuel were both born in the country making them citizens. Maria has left France and never wants to return; she herself despises the white French people ('these dirty whites ... they don't deserve this beautiful land') and clearly does not perceive herself to be one even though the rebels and army see her as one such 'dirty white' who makes the country 'filthy'. Throughout is woven the theme of where is home and what it means to feel you belong and rooted in a situation where others label you an outsider.

Maria is a tough fighter but lacks sensitivity and does not seem to realise, or wish to see, how she is perceived. We witness the tragic consequences of this to her, her family and the people who work with her as the film works to its conclusion.

The film is beautifully shot with an atmospheric soundtrack provided by Tindersticks. The colours, the heat, the expanse are well evoked and make you realise why Maria loves it so she is prepared to risk her life and those close to her. There is spare use of dialogue and Huppert excels at the role of Maria, a difficult woman of few words. This is the sort of film that benefits from more than one watch as Denis packs in characters and events all of which add to the texture of the film and its politics.


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