Within the last decade, African war movies have managed to wriggle their way not just to the big screen, but also to the DVD collection of most film enthusiast households. With the right blend of villains, action, blood shedding, escapades and an underlying humanitarian storyline to top it all off, there is no denying that they make for a thrilling watch.
Indeed, the likes of 'Hotel Rwanda', 'The Last King of Scotland' and 'Blood Diamond' effortlessly fulfil all of the above characteristics, but how much more predictability and reoccurring themes can one expect a movie-goer to endure?
Surprisingly, 'White Material' initially creates a mesmerising portrait of civil war, racial tension and one woman’s resistance to change by using the bare minimum of violence and a simplistic plot. The director's (Denis) refusal to name the location in which the film is set heightens the sense of mystery and undoubtedly lures the viewer in. Huppert’s ability to identify with the leading lady (Maria) and conviction of such raw emotion is captivating. Even when her workers recede from the dilapidated coffee plantation and the prospect of death looms, a vulnerable Maria remains firm in her decision to stay put.
As a war film, it is invigorating to empathise with a woman as the central character. However, after the first thirty minutes of watching Maria make imprudent decisions and whinge about her disappointing son and sham of an ex-husband, the whole thing becomes a bit tiresome, and ultimately this is a lacklustre offering.
At times, I was grateful for the lengthy speechless segments and looked forward to hearing the utterings of the Reggae DJ that randomly appeared throughout the film with his words of wisdom.
The main problem with 'White Material' is that it lacks direction (and strong characters). It is impossible to get a handle on Isabelle’s reasons for standing up to the rebels. Denis’s film is clearly one that reflects on her own African upbringing. It raises the sensitive debate of whether heritage is determined by blood or birthplace.
As well intentioned as this movie may be, it can not be sold based on its good nature and hard hitting concept alone.
At times, I wished that I could have fled with the expatriates and gone home.