When an 11-year-old girl is brutally raped and murdered in a quiet French village, a police detective who has forgotten how to feel emotions--because of the death of his own family in some kind of accident--investigates the crime, which turns out to ask more questions than it answers.
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The story takes place in a country about which we know nothing: a country of snow and dense forests somewhere in the North. A family lives in an isolated house near a lake. Alexi, the ... See full summary »
A youth named Louis lives in Montreal. He has no interests, real friends, or even dreams. His only hobby is perusing porn for the purpose of pleasuring himself. He's bored with his life, his job, and his on-and-off girlfriend. After moving to a new apartment he discovers that his new neighbor is his exact opposite: surrounded by friends, the good-looking young man is entertaining and obviously happy. He becomes obsessed with this new neighbor, who he can hear through the walls. This obsession will change his life. Written by
The French writer-director Bruno Dumont achieves something rarely accomplished since TAXI DRIVER and ERASERHEAD: a way of looking at the world entirely afresh. Unlike those movies--or the recent, Expressionist CLEAN, SHAVEN--Dumont doesn't distort the physical world, make it elastic or dreamlike. But he somehow makes us feel the world is being recorded by a very wise child from another planet. Everything, absolutely everything, from human behavior to wind rippling over a field of grass, is seen as never before. Ezra Pound's injunction to "make it new" is stamped on every frame.
Pharaon is a slow-witted police superintendent who is anything but pharaonic. He had a girlfriend and a baby, now dead. (We are not told how.) He is friends with Domino, a big-boned, sensitive, slatternly woman next door, and Joseph, her handsome beau, with whom she seems to never stop having sex. In their small town, a little girl has been raped and murdered. Pharaon pursues this case, as he pursues a sort of inarticulate love for Domino. Along the way, a light dawns in Pharaon--a dreadful light. He becomes sensitive to the suffering of all living things--a pig hurt by the suckling of her young, all the way to a motorist getting a beating outside police headquarters. The effect this has is to create a kind of moral schizophrenia in Pharaon: he can filter out nothing. Like an overlap of Raskolnikov and Prince Mishkin, Pharaon takes both the world's sin and sufferings on his back.
But this gives only the barest outline of the experience of L'HUMANITE, which is not about its plot. Indeed, the relationship of Dumont's handling of the materials of cinema to the story itself is unique in my experience of narrative moviemaking. Like Abbas Kiarostami in his recent work, Dumont uses the landscape not to illustrate the story, but to propose a dialectic against it. Where the landscape acts as an argument for life in Kiarostami's TASTE OF CHERRY, here it does something else. It vibrates with feeling. In its childlike gaze at the hardness of people and things, L'HUMANITE tries to get at the shifting feelings underneath--the emotions and sensations so elusive there are no words for them. The movie proves that literary means--finding names--are unnecessary. Dumont finds aural-visual-rhythmic means to voice those emotions.
His techniques can be daring, appalling. Pharaon, gradually overwhelmed by the world's thousand and one cruelties, starts to spontaneously embrace (relative) total strangers, in scenes one can imagine giving audiences giggles. Dumont doesn't care.
L'HUMANITE is the kind of movie that, while you're watching it, you feel can drive you crazy in places, but which you know you'll live with and re-play in your head for the rest of your life. And Cannes naysayers to the contrary, all the performances in this movie--all of them, down to the tiniest--are perfect.
A note: I would like to thank the other people who wrote about L'HUMANITE on IMDB. With no other movie have I felt I learned so much by reading other people's responses, and particularly noting the details they chose to underline. For the authenticity and unabashedness of everyone's responses, I am truly grateful.
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