Who's In It: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankole, Nicolas Duvauchelle, William Nadylam, Michel Subor
The Basics: In an unnamed African country deep in the throes of civil war, with child soldiers running around machete-and-pistol threatening everybody, the lone holdouts are a French woman (Isabelle Huppert) and her family. They are the "white material" the rebel radio DJs in the country taunt with deadlines and death threats. But she's determined to stay put on their run-down coffee plantation for harvest season even after all the other ex-pats have run. It's her right, after all, being a landowner propped up for two generations by the colonialist legacy of the country. And so even when everyone she knows is being killed, she hangs on....
What's The Deal: If you think you're going to get a simple anti-imperialism message from French director Claire Denis, you've got about seven other things coming. Her movies defy expectations all the way down the line, from the way she tells a story to her desire to provoke response. When she observes humanity it's with laboratory precision and she's absolutely unsparing. No one has her allegiance, not even the lost child soldiers on their gleefully furious rampages (unless you consider the scene where they devour looted snack cakes and drugs and all pass out together a sort of "look how innocent they seem while sleeping" moment). Sentimentalists will think Denis is cold-hearted and wonder why she won't even beg a little sympathy for her stunningly iron-willed heroine. But there's a difference between being tough-minded and being cruel; She's just the former rather than the latter.
Questions You'll Walk Away With: What's up with Huppert's character's countless blind spots? Why is her plantation such a dump in disrepair? Does she think she's Isak Dinesen? Scarlett O'Hara? How can she value coffee beans over her own life? Why is she so irrational? And you'll get to construct your own answers to those questions while still feeling grateful to witness Huppert's steely performance as one of the most flawed movie characters in recent history.
Most Chilling Line Of Dialogue, Directed To Huppert, Who Couldn't Care Less That She's Being Overtly Threatened: "Extreme blondness brings bad luck. It cries out to be pillaged. Blue eyes are troublesome..."
See Also: If you're up for a crash course in the films of one of the greatest living filmmakers we have, then go on the hunt for Nenette et Boni, Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day, Friday Night, The Intruder, 35 Shots of Rum and Chocolat (No, not the dopey one with Johnny Depp.)