Thrown out of Africa

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert B. Ker For The New Mex­i­can

White Ma­te­rial, drama, not rated, The Screen, in French with sub­ti­tles, 3.5 chiles

IWhite Ma­te­rial be­gins by drop­ping us right into the ac­tion but doesn’t let on ex­actly what the ac­tion en­tails or the con­text. White dogs run across a ru­ral road at night, slip­ping through a flash­light’s beam like spir­its. The beam of light then guides us through a dark house, where we no­tice a framed pho­to­graph of a white woman jux­ta­posed with the dec­o­ra­tive African masks on the walls. We briefly see that it is a black sol­dier hold­ing the flash­light and fol­low him into the next room, where a black man known as the Boxer (Isaach de Bankolé) lies on a bed, dead from a gun­shot wound. The sol­dier’s com­pany then sets the house ablaze. The only civil­ian alive at the scene is a white man with a shaved head. The sol­diers stand in the door­ways and hold him at gun­point so he does not es­cape the smoke and flames.

Af­ter a brief ti­tle card, we get a re­prieve from the dark­ness. A mid­dleaged white woman named Maria Vial (Is­abelle Hup­pert) stag­gers along a road­side. She tries to flag down a car but is left in a cloud of dust. The next truck is full of sol­diers; she hides in the tall grass to es­cape no­tice. Fi­nally, a bus stops for her. The seats are all taken, and she doesn’t wish to sit on the roof, so she clings to the lad­der on the back. As the bus rum­bles down the dirt road, she gazes out at the fields and moun­tains of her African home.

It is, of course, not her home. Nor is it even truly the home of her grown son, Manuel (Nicolas Du­vauchelle), even though he was born there and has never lived any­where else. This is African land, and they are French colonists. Rum­bles of war and vi­o­lent up­heaval rip­ple through the coun­try, and the Vials are of­fered a chance to es­cape in a heli­copter — to be lifted from the ground and re­turned to their real home — but Maria re­fuses to leave the cof­fee plan­ta­tion where she has lived and worked for decades. So she re­mains, in a sit­u­a­tion not un­like that bus ride: there is no room for her here, yet she stub­bornly clings on, alone.

Di­rec­tor Claire De­nis ( Beau Tra­vail, 35 Shots of Rum) doesn’t ex­plain why Maria pur­sues such a quixotic en­deavor. It could be that she loves

This land is your land, this land is my land: Is­abelle Hup­pert

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