The setting is an unnamed African country where Maria – played by a transcendent Isabelle Huppert – struggles to hold onto her family’s coffee plantation amid an escalating civil war. A fractured story about love, strength, the costs of white patrimony and the continuing ravages of postcolonialism, “White Material” finds the brilliant French director Claire Denis again in Africa, where she spent much of her childhood in Francophone countries. Here, the actor Robert Pattinson, an admirer of “White Material” and of Ms. Denis, answered a few questions by email about both put to him by Manohla Dargis.
How did you discover Claire Denis’s films?
Robert PattinsonI saw “White Material” about seven years ago and she became an immediate favorite.
What specifically draws you to her work?
Watching the performances in her movies, you can just feel the freedom she gives her actors. She creates an entire world for them to behave in. And I think having such wide parameters to capture things from means her movies can be built from an enormous amount of incremental details rather than a narrow narrative thrust. Her movies feel like waves building and breaking.
What does Isabelle Huppert bring to the character of Maria Vial?
She plays a character that seems to live steadfastly in her faith and imagination and yet still feels so human, accessible and raw.
Is Huppert our greatest living actress?
It’s difficult to think of someone who’s better.