Despite the threat of violence from rebel militia growing ever closer, coffee plantation owner Maria (Isabelle Huppert) refuses to leave the unspecified African nation where she has made her living and where her adolescent son, Manuel, was born. The strength of Claire Denis’ cinema is always its appeal to the viewer’s physical sensations, and White Material sees her use this skill to terrifying ends. Even the smallest wound, a cut on Manuel’s bare foot, is a warning of the terror to follow. Huppert is, unsurprisingly, mesmerising as the unshakeable Maria, but it is Nicolas Duvauchelle’s performance as Manuel, a lethargic slacker who undergoes a frightening physical and mental transformation, which lingers longest in the memory. White Material’s menacing pace and candid violence make for less pleasurable viewing than 2009’s gentle 35 Shots of Rum, but richly textured visuals and exquisitely maintained tension highlight Denis as a filmmaker completely in command of her craft.