Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Lambert play a couple in crisis. (IFC)
A lot goes unanswered in "White Material."
It's one of those movies where questions like "Why didn't they do that?" or "Wait, what's their relationship?" keep popping up. And for the most part, those questions never get answered.
Maybe that's supposed to be part of the film's French charm or sense of mystery. Who knows?
"White Material" is the story of Maria (Isabelle Huppert), who has long lived on an African coffee plantation with her husband (Christopher Lambert) and spoiled punk son (Nicolas Duvauchelle).
In the unnamed nation, a children's army is on the march, kids with guns ransacking and killing in a sort of aimless rebellion, and they are heading toward the plantation. In the face of all reason, Maria refuses to flee, even though all her workers abandon her.
So she goes out and recruits others. But unbeknownst to her, her husband is selling the plantation, intending to leave. Why he isn't moving a bit more quickly on this plan is one of those many unanswered questions.
It's obvious why Maria clings to the plantation — it's been her life, her work, and it's something to hold on to. Her family relationships are rocky, the political world outside is even more so.
But the violence is coming and Maria's insistence on staying flies directly in the face of the hyper-protective way she acts around her son. She's not just risking her life, she's risking his.
Writer-director Claire Denis is superb at telling details and tone, and she delivers a strong sense of life in Africa and the clash of cultures there. But she's not big on story logic, and this film has a big story at its center. A few questions can be intriguing; too many questions can be distracting.
Running time: 108 minutes