Very simply, Claire Denis is one of the dozen greatest living filmmakers in the world. When I was drawing up my personal list of the best movies of the decade, Denis was among the top contenders, but with so many films I couldn't decide which to pick. There was Beau Travail, which I eliminated simply because it officially counts as a 1999 film. There was the gorgeous, delicate Friday Night, and the baffling, transcendent The Intruder and the small, touching 35 Shots of Rum, and if you lived someplace where you could see it before December, the new White Material. (And, for braver souls than I, there was also the vicious, depressing 2001 "vampire" movie Trouble Every Day.)
Now, a few months too late for my list, I had the chance to view White Material at the San Francisco International Film Festival. At a glance, it's probably one of her most accessible movies. It has an actual plot, and a big star in the lead role, Isabelle Huppert, here looking bright and tough, her freckles and blue eyes glinting and gleaming in the heat. Even the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, is here, as well as cult actor Isaach De Bankolé (Casino Royale, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). But it's also one of Denis' grimmest and most pessimistic films, although that doesn't stop me from wanting to see it again.