Vial is a frustrating character to watch, for she refuses to acknowledge (maybe even to herself) the peril in which she is placing her husband and son, their staff and extended family, and the seasonal workers she recruits to help with the coffee harvest. Her love of Africa, and contempt for 'sales Blancs' (dirty whites) blinds her to the reality that, for many, she is in fact 'one of them'.
White material follows a non-linear structure, shifting back and forward in time over the course of two pivotal days. The tension builds slowly over the first half of the film, then starts to ratchet up with some very shocking moments towards the end. The child soldiers, gun-toting and high on pharmaceuticals, yet clutching teddies as they sleep, are particularly poignant and distressing to watch.
The cinematography is by Yves Cape, rather than Denis' longtime collaborator Angès Godard, and I didn't find the images as powerful as Godard's work in 1999's Beau travail, also set on the African continent. The detail, though, is frequently arresting, with sand swirling in the wind and the flow of bright red coffee beans particularly striking.
An unsentimental yet deeply personal portrait of the destructive power of violence in a beautiful but broken nation.
White material is available on Curzon on Demand for £2