Claire Denis’ splintered, impressionistic style, leaving much to be fathomed by the viewer, sometimes sparks critical ire. David Denby, for one, writing of “White Material” in the New Yorker, grows bilious at the thought of anyone who might find grace there: “Dreadful, in an aimless, intentionally disjointed way that some people have mistaken for art.” Oh dear. “Some people.” The unbelievable uncouth! Returning to her roots in Cameroon, as well as to her first, French Colonial Africa-set feature, “Chocolate” (1988), Denis’ latest rests on the small yet sturdy shoulders of Isabelle Huppert, as a colonial plantation owner who insists on riding out a revolution as she awaits her family’s coffee-bean harvest. Confusion reigns and the camerawork reflects that, less pointed than the critique of masculinity in “Beau Travail,” less pointillist than the haunting yet near-indecipherable “Intruder,” Denis still works with the suggestiveness of sound and image rather than the flat sum of plot and sociology. Huppert’s character thinks of herself as part of the landscape, unmovable, and Denis photographs her as such: a fact, a feature, and not an interloper—arms stretched to the sky, feet on the dusty red earth. Racial tension seethes, revolution arrives. Some people find it hypnotic. With Isaach de Bankole, Christophe Lambert. 106m. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.