A visually ravishing, structurally beguiling portrait of post-colonial race-conflict as a hallucinatory apocalyptic dream, White Material finds Claire Denis operating in a somewhat more abstract mode than her prior 35 Shots of Rum. Working from a Marie N’Diaye script, Denis sets her tale in an anonymous African nation at an indeterminate time, a vagueness that’s strikingly complemented by a fixation on tactile details – of smoke billowing from houses, coffee beans being harvested and stomped by hands and feet, bodies in close-up motion and stasis, and faces in repose and wracked by anxiety. Similarly, the director jumbles her story’s chronology to create a sense of reality coming unhinged, even as her fundamental tale remains straightforward, focusing on white French coffee plantation owner Maria (Isabelle Huppert) as she tries to keep her business running while a civil war breaks out between the country’s military and a murderous rebel force intent on eradicating the nation’s Caucasians (aka “white element”). Irrationality leads to collapse and/or insanity at every turn, not just in the case of Maria’s foolish refusal to flee the country (instead, she slanders her native France and endeavors to hire new workers) and decision to house a rebel leader known as The Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé), but also in the disintegration of her clan. As the rugged land succumbs to brutality, Maria’s ex-husband André (Christopher Lambert) attempts to sell the family business behind Maria’s back, her father-in-law (Michel Subor) aimlessly wanders about the property, and her layabout son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) responds to an assault by two black kids by shaving his head and going wannabe-rebel native. Madness born from colonial racial dynamics spreads like a virus, infecting all. It’s a rather simple socio-political set-up, yet one made infinitely more haunting by the filmmaker’s impressionistic aesthetics (courtesy of gorgeous camerawork by cinematographer Yves Cape and an unsettling Tindersticks score). Whether in the sight of machete-wielding adolescent soldiers emerging from hillside trees, or Huppert’s tightly wound countenance, barely able to bottle up her underlying grief, rage and fear, Denis’ evocative direction lends this saga of humanity teetering on the brink of collapse a ghastly splendor.