The National of Film and Sound Archive is currently screening an amazing film titles ‘White Material’. I first came across this film at the 2010 French Film Festival here in Canberra. With the anticipation of seeing Isabelle Huppert, you offcourse would think that it’s going to be a neurotically intriguing film and yep the neurotic element is there, but it also being presented with subtle and profound African social and political commentaries. I have wanted to write about this film soon after seeing it, but have put it off for a while because there isn’t much to discuss, the film perfectly portrays what it wants to say, Isabelle offcourse is simple, real and spectacular in the film. The thoughts and concepts are bare, simple and communicated very well to the audiences. I now however want to write about it after having read an essay by Oscar Wilde titles ‘the soul man under socialism’. ‘Wow dude, you’re fucking random’…did someone just say that, or did I just make that comment in my head? What is the association there? You can almost relate anything to anything else these days; it’s all about the art of lying and bullshitting...or perhaps I should read the ‘The Decay of Lying’ (also written by Oscar Wilde) before I have a right to continue this blog…hahaha…okay lets get back to ‘White Material’ and ‘The soul of man under socialism’.
In ‘White Material’ Isabelle is presented as Madam Maria, a fifty something white woman living with her husband and a twenty something year old son, she runs a coffee plantation in a French speaking African country. The film roughly started out with a helicopter circulating above Maria’s plantation, telling her that the French troop is leaving the country, that they can no longer offer her their protection and she should vacate her family back to France. Concurrently, the country is also suffering from civil war between the rising of the rebel troop (where mostly school children were recruited to join) and the government army. Being a resourceful place with plenty of food and cash, Maria’s plantation is targeted by the rebel troop and her African employees slowly dissipate, running away to find a more safety place to live. As the film progresses, you learn that Maria is a headstrong and wonderfully kind woman; she is determined to stay in the country and continues to recruit workers for the plantation. Her political belief is neutral, she takes no side except for that of kindness; she allows ‘the boxer’, a lonely hero from the rebel troop to hide out in her shack and provides him food and medicines. And you also begin to question her real character, e.g. is her determination to continue living in the country due to her pride of inheriting her father’s coffee plantation, is it because she is as ‘African’ as everybody else around her that she can imagine no alternative, or is it simply the financial value of the land and the coffee investment? Does she not care for the future of her son? Has her cultural identity so deeply rooted in the land? Maria’s young son, Manuel, after experiencing a humiliating experience of being bullied by two much younger African children, he decides to become one of them in order to gain strength and camaraderie with the rebel troop, to drown the insecurity of being a young man and take on a much more violent sense of masculinity.
Similar to ‘The White Ribbon’ by the magnificent Michael Haneke, the film condemns no one, nor any social/political belief but rather provides perhaps explanations as to how things have become what they are. At the very end of the film, you’ll find that perhaps Maria has chosen a particular direction in her political belief, an explanation for her logic of being or her reaction towards ‘Authoritarian Socialism’; a concept which is negatively criticised by the wonderfully witty and charming Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde never failed to entertain his readers with wits, poetry and logic, even in an essay dealing with ‘politics and socialism’. He simply believed that in a society where the aim of its citizen is to attain as much wealth and private properties as possible, then this would give birth to poverty, miseries, violence and most of all the decaying of ‘arts’ as people would lose their ‘individualities’ by letting themselves being governed by the authorities, money and social status. It is the root of all violence and poverty and perhaps Ms Claire Denis is suggesting the same idea while writing her screenplay for ‘White Material’. Maria has simply made a choice, though the choice is more apparent toward the end of the film, what more apparent is that it was never altered despite being tested many times. She would make an ideal citizen in Mr Wilde’s perfect fictional society.
Our society has become what it is and what choice have we got? Our choices, my choices and your choices, the choice to live life as it is for each of the individual. Is it worthwhile to go against the system? Is it an entirely bad system? The answers depend on each of the individual, some may choose to find his or her tribe, some may go with the flow because they can imagine no alternative, and some may rebel against the system because of their humanitarian passion and political belief. The greatest of all as suggested by Mr Wilde, are those that able to retain their ‘individuality’ and remain faithful to their human natures. Why? Because true human nature is beautiful, clean and full of love. And what have made it dirty, selfish and miserable?.....That’s exactly right!!!!