Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some Initial Notes on White Material

Super-coherence 2: Denis slides White Material's chronology around, but, as in The Intruder, it's to clarify, not to artfully obscure. Time shifts as aspects / moments are pulled out, like someone pulling on a thread in order to untangle a knot (in this case, the brutal ending).

If it weren't for the folding of time -- if the narrative were more conventionally "straightforward," which isn't to say it would be straightforward at all, merely conventional -- the final act of violence would seem like one of those contrived accusatory enigmas Haneke specializes in.

White Material is more or less Denis doing Haneke: a privileged family-microcosm is destroyed by the bourgeois values (the ethical importance of preserving what one has earned) it holds on to.

But Denis is slier and more fluid, so instead of crescendoing to an event (as Haneke, ever the showman, always does), she starts with the central event and takes it apart piece by piece, object by object (and the objects do pile on, including a gold-plated lighter, a red currency bag, a purple robe, two motorcycles, a bottle of Fanta, a revolver and the ultimate symbol of Western decadence: Nicolas Duvauchelle's full-sleeve, full-color tattoo and the money, time and idleness it hints at).

***
"Coffee isn't worth dying for," or something along those lines is what Maurice the foreman says to Huppert before he speeds off on his motorcycle for safety.

Isabelle Huppert's character repeats again and again that the coffee plantation she refuses to leave is all she has left, and that abandoning it would represent the ultimate act of cowardice; Denis, in turn, shows, again and again, that the people who really have next to nothing (and don't think that it's a badge of honor) have already run away. Huppert is as entrenched in a fantasy as Duvauchelle and his child soldiers and tattoos.

2 comments:

Jon Hastings said...

I think there's a complicating factor, or rather a final turn of the screw, that you're leaving out here: it's only the woman who wants to hold onto what she's earned. I don't think this is a critique of bourgeois feminism (i.e., problems of privileged white women aren't "real problems") as much as it is a critique of the way liberal-capitalism adapted feminism to its own purposes.

man in the iron mask said...

"But Denis is slier and more fluid, so instead of crescendoing to an event (as Haneke, ever the showman, always does), she starts with the central event and takes it apart piece by piece, object by object."

What I understand is that there's little, or now way other than to go about in a discontinued manner. I mean, how does one go about self-righteousness, no? Continuity is not even the question here, or even the word. The emotion we're probably looking for is realization.