White Material / Certain Women / The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Tried to make effective use of a week’s trial of the IFC channel, spoiler-free capsule reviews below….

WHITE MATERIAL

A brutal, sun-scorched, hypnotically distressing look at white feminists and French colonialists and mad sons in the midst of an erupting civil war in an unspecified African country that Does Not Want Them There. You have to leave, the retreating French army tells Maria, you need to get out, her own plantation workers tell her, but Maria just wants to finish harvesting her coffee beans, and I want to tear my hair out!!

Isabelle Huppert is astonishing in this, in a role that reminded me a lot of Florence Pugh’s in Lady Macbeth. She is intractable and naive and strong and insane. The steady, dread-filled pacing made me feel like *I* was going insane. White Material was like one of those bad dreams where I realize that oh, this is so nightmarishly bad because it actually is a nightmare, and then with relief I can just find something to throw myself off of and end the dream. Only it was a movie not a dream, and if I hadn’t finished it I wouldn’t have had a moment of such sudden pure shock and horror that I sat straight up with a yell. Claire Denis is a Filmmaker.

★★★½

CERTAIN WOMEN

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything that felt more like the phrase “a collection of short stories” than Certain Woman. It is adapted from three by Maile Meloy (sister to Colin), all set among small towns in Montana in winter, strung together in a simple triptych.

The three protagonists very scantly cross paths, so minimally that none of them ever speak to each other. In fact I don’t think Michelle Williams’s character sees any of the others at all. I had kind of thought this movie would be about a handful of disparate women making a connection, but that’s not it at all, it’s much more about women as figures alone. Somehow I feel like saying it’s a portrait of female isolation is getting across the wrong tone—although all three of them do have a loneliness to them, by alone I mean that like…their existence is so defined within themselves. They be out there, as the memes go.

This is a quiet movie, with a lot of space to let the characters just carry out their tasks and think their thoughts. It’s spare in a nice way, the way poetry is spare.

★★

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY

This is maybe the only one we didn’t watch in the ‘Ireland In Film’ class I took in college, and as such I several times would think “oh boy we’re gonna get bogged down on this part,” before remembering that I am just my own class now, and am free to bog or not bog on Irish film at will. Appropriately.

Anyway, I found this surprisingly workmanlike for a Palme d’Or winner. Rather just, here’s a march of history! it was grim!, without really anything of artistic interest to set it apart, besides maybe the minor special effect that is the face of 29-year-old Cillian Murphy. While pretty run-of-the-mill war bleakness on the whole, the script does go quite in on idealogical debate in the latter portion, which is kind of interesting, though not exactly novel in the oeuvre of director Ken Loach, or, frankly, all Irish film. If at some point a character doesn’t start yelling in a heavy brogue about Michael Collins, is it even Irish?

★★½

3 thoughts on “White Material / Certain Women / The Wind That Shakes the Barley

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