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Your Friends and Neighbors: Claire Denis’s “White Material”

Your Friends and Neighbors: Claire Denis's "White Material"

Claire Denis’s films usually stray so widely from anything resembling newsworthy topics that her new White Material, an experiential foray into a contemporary African crisis, risks being categorized as merely “topical.” This might not sound so damning a criticism generally, but Denis’s devoted followers tend to most admire the French director’s unassailable focus on corporeality and unerring ambiguity, and perhaps implicitly her ability to remain untethered to the issues of the day. The fact that the subject matter of White Material sounds instantly quotable (hence reducible)—a white plantation owner living in an unnamed African country suddenly finds herself amidst civil war and must decide whether to evacuate as the violence escalates—has already gotten a handful of die-hard Denisians’ backs up. Rather than an ethereal globe-hopping adaptation of writings by a French theorist (L’Intrus) or a personal, insular rumination on a one-night-stand (Friday Night), this is a fleshly, concrete dramatizing of a time and place, and, yes, it’s capital-R relevant—yet since it’s a Denis film, it’s hardly a conventional “social problem” picture or even a linear narrative. Instead, it’s yet another emotionally complex study in character identification. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of White Material.

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