| Parisian filmmaker Claire Denis was born and raised in French Colonial Africa. She revisits her birthplace in many of her films and brings a unique perspective to the subject of Caucasians living there.
In a place rife with civil and racial conflict, one white French woman (Isabelle Huppert from "The Piano Teacher") stands alone trying desperately to harvest the beans and save her extended family's coffee plantation.
The movie opens with Maria Vial (Huppert) walking down a dirt road. A French military helicopter passes overhead and a soldier warns her to leave the area immediately. See seems oblivious to the danger.
The movie is intended to disorient the viewer with a narrative that flashes backward and forward in time. There is a mass exodus of workers wanting to get out of harm's way. Bad news spreads of the suffering and an escalation of the war. A voice on the radio announces the end of French colonialism. "As for the white material, the party's over. They are right to run scared," says the disc jockey.
Maria is staying put. She needs just one week or the entire coffee crop will be ruined. She grabs a wad of American dollars from a safe and heads to the village to hire new workers. She encounters a roadblock manned by rebel soldiers. They demand she either pay the toll to pass or die. She recognizes the faces of the villagers, including her son's gym teacher.
After returning to the plantation with a new group of workers, she finds the Boxer (Isaach De Bankole from "Casino Royale" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), a onetime prizefighter and now the inspirational leader of the rebels, hiding out in a shed. He is losing a lot of blood from a gunshot wound.
We are introduced to Maria's lazy teenage son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and her ex-husband Andre (Christopher Lambert from "Highlander"). The land is actually owned by her former father-in-law, who lives with Andre, his new native African wife Lucie and their pre-teen son Jose.
The ending is a cop-out, and the viewer is left unfulfilled.
The main reason to buy a ticket is for Huppert's mesmerizing performance. She is one of France's greatest actresses. There is very little dialogue or action in this minimalist movie. You have little sympathy for any of the characters. The camera takes everything in while the viewer waits patiently for something to happen. Cinematographer Yves Cape captures the natural beauty of West Africa. Composer Stuart Staples creates the right atmosphere with a haunting violin-heavy musical score.
The movie was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. The dialogue is in French with English subtitles. This intense, 106-minute war drama is now playing exclusively for a limited engagement at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"