In White Material, the great contemporary French filmmaker Claire Denis, known for her restless, intimate dramas, introduces an unforgettably crazed character. Played by a ferocious Isabelle Huppert, Maria is an entitled white woman living in Africa, desperately unwilling to give up her family’s crumbling coffee plantation despite the civil war closing in on her. Created with Denis’ signature full-throttle visual style, which places the viewer at the center of the maelstrom, White Material is a gripping evocation of the death throes of European colonialism and a fascinating look at a woman lost in her own mind.
Claire Denis’ recent film White Material comes to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc in a 1080p/24hz transfer.
All and all Criterion’s presentation for White Material is one of the stronger out of all of the IFC licenced titles. Sometimes the transfers for the IFC films look a little soft around the edges but this one looks incredibly sharp and fine object detail is strong, best displayed in some of the clothing patterns and the stray hairs that seem to always be always blowing over Isabelle Huppert’s face. Colours also look exceptional as a whole; during day sequences the image is bright and vibrant with sharp colours, the browns in the landscape even coming off especially strong.
If the image falters in one area it’s the night sequences where the blacks come off murky and crushed, looking gray and with almost non-existent which can sometimes affect the colours in the foreground, fading them out and causing them to look under-saturated, even if only by a little bit.
But even with this short coming it’s still a strong looking transfer with, as a bonus, not one noticeable blemish in the print.
White Material comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. While it won’t blow you away it still has a few things going for it. The film certainly can’t be called action packed but it still has its share of more active moments. Because of this I was a little surprised that the presentation wasn’t a little more aggressive. Though low key overall sound quality is superb and both dialogue and music sounds natural and clean.
The sound presentation sticks heavily to the fronts presenting dialogue and music, the latter sneaking somewhat to the rears. Some gunfire and other background noise also makes its way back there but there is one moment early on where a helicopter is flying overhead, which naturally sounds to be flying around the viewer. It’s sharp, crisp and moves around the environment beautifully during this scene.
In the end, though, the film doesn’t really call for anything truly active and it’s suiting for the film, shining when it needs to.
In terms of supplements the IFC titles can be hit or miss and I’m going to guess that probably some of the problem has to do with the fact most of the films (so far) are incredibly new and are just missing that analytical edge because of this.
Instead of an audio commentary, director Claire Denis provides a 25-minute interview where she talks about the production history of White Material, the themes within it, and general anecdotes about certain sequences and shots. She talks about the political turmoil that has occurred or is occurring in certain African countries, similar to what is presented in this film, and also covers what it was like to film in Cameroon and discusses her previous films. She then moves on to collaborating with Huppert and her presence on the set, which was apparently intimidating to some of the other performers. Nice interview though I was probably hoping for more of an analysis of the film and when she does talk about the film it’s more in a technical nature.
Criterion also includes an interview with actress Isabelle Huppert. It’s unfortunately brief at only 14-minutes and she offers an analysis of her character and her motivations. From there she covers what it was like to work with Denis and comments on her style of camerawork and editing (based on this interview and the next one a lot of material was cut from the film) and even offers an interpretation about the ending, though it’s nothing too Earth shattering.
And then we get yet another interview, this one with actor Isaach Bankolé who plays “The Boxer” in the film. He talks about the basis for his character, Thomas Sankara (a subject Denis does touch on in her interview) and interestingly he also talks about a number of his scenes revolving around his character that ultimately either didn’t make the cut or were never filmed (he almost sounds disappointed as he adds that the depth of his character was more apparent in these removed scenes.) He has also worked with Denis previously and covers the film Chocolat briefly. Probably my favourite interview of the bunch.
A short 2-minute deleted scene is included, presenting a sort of alternate/extended ending to the film, or at least a short scene that would lead up to the ending. A nice inclusion but again, judging from the interviews, it sounds as though a lot of material was actually cut from the film so it’s disappointing that more didn’t make it into this set. This supplement looks to be upscaled from a standard definition source.
The final big feature (not counting the IFC theatrical trailer) is a short 12-minute documentary by Denis about the premiere of White Material at the Écrans Noirs Film Festival in 2010 in Cameroon, where she premieres the film. Narrated by Denis she talks about the showing, its shortcomings, and presents footage taken at the festival. Though interesting in a couple of areas regarding the showing I don’t think it’s a must-see feature.
The included booklet then comes with a nice essay by Amy Taubin on Denis’s career, this film, and some of the related themes found in all of her films.
In all the interviews are decent but it’s a pretty slim collection of material, barely totaling an hours’ worth of time.