Claire Denis' directing debut, 1988's Chocolat, was a beautiful, bittersweet autobiographical reverie about a French colonial girl growing up in West Africa. The extraordinarily talented filmmaker's most recent piece, White Material, offers a horrifying bookend: the story of the manager and co-owner of a coffee plantation in an unnamed modern-day West African nation that is in the throes of violent political upheaval.
Isabelle Huppert is the woman, Maria, trying to hold her family business together and gather the crops as the world crumbles around her: The French military is pulling out, and rebels and government troops are engaged in fierce battle. Bands of kids - boys and a few girls - roam the dusty roads armed with machetes and automatic weapons. And radio broadcasts warn that for the "white material" - the colonialists, like Maria, her ex-husband, and their son - their time is over.