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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
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.
It is said that Humanite is not for everyone. And i would surely support
that claim since I am a steward in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and had to get
up, about every two minutes to open the door to someone sneaker.
Still, I managed to get quite a clear impression of the film which is in my opinion a superb one. Although many people find themselves puzzled by the characters (virtually everyone in the show i attended came out of the cinema looking almost personally insulted by the film) i think that if you know and love Dostoevsky's books you won't find them so hard to understand. Pharaon is simply Prince Mishkin. He is assulted by the bluntness and cruelness of existence and the crime he tries to solve - but is overwhelmed with humility, love and compassion to the world. While his friend make love in a way that seems almost like a rape he makes love to the world, to the clods of the earth. When he rides his bicycle his upper body seems to be moving as if he was making love. But most of all he feels diligent compassion to the world and it's assaulters. The film shows the violence everywhere. Pharaon sees this violence and with his deep gaze manages to disarm it (with protesters and with Domino). I think that Pharaon is a really great acting performance. Pharaon like Mishkin in Dostoevky's notebooks 'sees not in the faces of people but in their hearts.'. The investigation taking place is like an investigation of the inner self. Of the human soul, of humanity. It's a category against Humanity and Pharaon's who is the categor manages to find compassion to humanity. Its sort of like an 'apocalypse now' in rural france.
"The power of cinema lies in the return of man to the body, to the heart, to
truth" - Bruno Dumont
In L'Humanite, by Bruno Dumont (La Vie de Jesus), Pharaon de Winter (Emmanuel Schotte) is a Police Superintendent called upon to investigate the murder and rape of an 11-year old girl. Flaunting almost every cinematic convention, the film is not about solving a crime but a 2 1/2-hour poem of mood, time, silence and spirit. Set in northern France in the director's hometown of Bailleul, the characters are unglamorous members of the working class. Dumont devotes long stretches of the film to simply observing Pharaon going about his life: eating an apple, tending his garden, watching a soccer game on television, interacting with his mother, or being a friend to his neighbor Domino (Severine Caneele), a rugged factory worker and her obnoxious bus-driver boyfriend Joseph (Philippe Tullier). He is an unlikely cop, a passive, stoop-shouldered, and empathetic man who would sooner kiss a prisoner on the lips or stroke his neck as browbeat him. Pharaon sees the suffering of the world and wants to hold it in his hands and stroke it. Schotte's performance is so expressive that his best actor award at Cannes was criticized because most people thought he wasn't acting, just being himself.
As the film opens, a man is walking in the distance alone across a grassy hill. Suddenly as the camera moves in for a close-up, he collapses in the mud and just lays there for a while. Is he dead or alive? Did he commit the crime? In the next scene, he is sitting in his car listening to harpsichord music and we discover that he is a policeman talking in a barely audible voice to his superior. The film cuts away to the battered body of an 11-year old girl, her torn and bloody vagina graphically shown as the police gather. Pharaon maintains the same anguished, enigmatic look on his face throughout that makes us uncertain if he is the murderer or the Second Coming of Christ. We know very little about him except that he "lost" his wife and child a few years ago, but it is never made clear whether he lost them or they lost him. Signs of passion or involvement are rare but come with a sudden ferocity, as when he is walking across the crime scene and starts to scream at the top of his lungs, a sound drowned out only by the passing Eurostar train.
L'Humanite is an involving and disturbing film that you cannot feel lukewarm about. It is profoundly moving but often agonizingly slow and virtually unwatchable in some of its graphic details (you may never want to have sex again after watching these mechanical exercises). The climax of the film is as perplexing as the beginning with an ambiguous resolution that I'm not quite sure what to make of. What I do know is that I felt as vitally alive watching this film as I did the first time that I saw Leolo by Jean-Claude Lauzon. L'Humanite is a breath of fresh air on the turgid cinema landscape and Dumont is as honest and challenging a director as I've seen in quite a long time. His film continually forces us to question what we are looking at and, as the title suggests, keeps bringing us closer and closer to the core of what makes us truly human.
L'Humanité is undoubtedly the best French movie I've seen this year. It's somewhere between Robert Bresson and David Lynch, which is quite uncommon. This is a suspense movie, but the nature of the suspense is metaphysical. The spectator, like the hero (Pharaon de Winter), keeps on following false leads as he tries to discover WHO the murderer could be. He even suspects Pharaon himself to be guilty (which, in a way, is true, if we admit we're all guilty). The characters all seem to be on the thin border line between humanity and animality. Pharaon needs a physical contact with human beings and animal alike; most of the time, men and women are filmed as if they were beasts and vice versa. But the film bears no contempt for anyone. It's not realistic but, on the other hand, it has nothing in common with 99% of the fictions we go and see usually. There is something about empathy in L'Humanité that I had never felt in cinema before. If I had to connect it with a genre, it would definitely be an "ethological genre movie" The screenplay is brilliant, the actors are so far away from what we expect from actors that they seem to come from another planet until we understand it's actually ours. Here is the riddle of L'Humanité: we live down here among strangers, and the nearer other people seem to be, the farther they actually are. L'Humanité is not made to entertain. If you're not looking for something else in films, don't waste your time, it has nothing in common with The End of Days.
This French oddity from second-time director Bruno Dumont is a
masterpiece. Four minutes into the film I was ready to switch it off,
but once I'd settled into the rhythm of the film I was transfixed. That
took about 20 minutes, and once I'd finished the film I re-watched
those first 20 minutes again.
A policeman investigates the brutal murder of a young girl in a French town and that's pretty much it. It's even less than that in some respects. For example the girl is found in the opening minutes, but it's 50 minutes before any real investigation begins. Instead it focuses on the policeman (Pharaon) and his two friends (lovers Domino and Joseph). They go to the beach, to a restaurant, stand outside their houses having stunted conversations and generally wasting the day away. Pharaon goes for a bicycle ride and tends to his allotment. Essentially nothing happens. There are maybe four or five actual plot points altogether, and the rest is filled with chat of the "Hi, how are you?" variety, long shots of people walking or driving, or opening doors. The entire film follows a kind of rhythmic cycle that becomes hypnotic if you allow it.
Which brings us to the actors. The DVD notes say they're all non-professionals. Not amateur actors, but real people who are acting for the first time. The actor who plays Joseph does reasonably well, but Domino is excellent (and it's an extremely brave performance for any actress).
Emmanuel Schotte (as Pharaon) is amazing. It's simply one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. Imagine Travis Bickle with 99pc of the anger taken out. Then cross him with Forrest Gump (with non of Hanks' caricature or comedy). Cast a non-actor who looks like a cross between Clive Owen and Alfred Molina and you're somewhere close. He's a very unlikely cop. He's wide-eyed, innocent, and simple. He's slow and deliberate. Brief comments from other characters tell us his wife and child died two years ago, and he looks like a man still stunned, as if he'd just heard the news. This is never hinted at once; we don't ever see what he was like before, no one ever tells him "You've changed", but the audience gets the feeling this is a man suffering desperately from the pain of grief. Most of this is expressed in Schotte's eyes which are desperately sad.
This low-key little film requires patience. Without Schotte's performance I don't think there'd be much of a film here. Be prepared for an extremely slow film, but one that's never boring. It will polarise opinion like few other films I've seen so I can't recommend it to everyone (and there are some very graphic sex scenes), but I thought it was amazing.
In this case, largely one man's reality, although several others are
involved. I hesitate to make literary comparisons, because film is a visual
medium with its own immediacy, but the central characters of the novels by
Emmanuel Bove and Patrick Susskind ("The Pigeon" in particular) put me very
much in mind of Pharaon de Winter, the "hero" of this film and is one reason
I love it. The inwardness,the soulful need that is barely understood by the
man himself, the sometimes interminably slow pace bring a profound
melancholic tone that I have rarely experienced on the screen.
I agree with others who've posted here, this isn't a film for everyone. But if you are moved by the deep existential reflection and quiet, sensitive behavior of a person who can empathize out of his/her own pain, I would recommend this movie.
On the surface, L'Humanite is about a detective, Pharaon, dealing with his
hyper sensitive nature to a rape/murder of a young girl he is
but especially for his unrequited love to his neighbor, Domino. Pharoan is
like a wounded, or fearful child, dumpy, perpetually slumped over, soft
spoken, watery eyed, whereas Domino is considerably working class, modern,
damaged, but not nearly as fearful, at least, not as openly sensitive;
unlike Pharaon, she doesn't wear her fear like bad suit. But, that is just
the surface of the characters and story, the actual definition of these
elements is left up to the viewer. The plot and the characters are
fragments. Instead of miring itself in details, long monologues, heavy
dialogue in general, or normal cinematic conventions, the film is
purposefully left incomplete in many areas. Thus, the viewer is left to
speculate how these gaps should be filled, left to ponder the scraps given
For example, we are told Pharaon's girlfriend and child left him, but not why. Is Pharaon's sensitivity a product of his being abandoned by this woman, or was his sensitivity the cause of her leaving? Domino is clearly upset when Pharaon mentions the case of the rape/murder of the young girl, but is her reaction just empathy, or something deeper? For every detail we are given, there are often unresolved questions that are never conveniently answered.
It somewhat reminds me of a Shohei Imamrua film, like Vengeance is Mine or The Eel, in that the story unfolds through rather mundane scenes, but these scenes end up speaking volumes over the course of the film. You could also say it is a bit like Antonioni as well, as the ordinary, often bright, landscape often contributes just as much emotion as the characters. Basically, Brumo Dumont, like Imamura or Antonioni, eschews normal narrative conventions to tell a story. He lets the viewer fill in the gaps, and much of the film will always remain an engaging mystery.
Movie as existential metareality, states of being. Severe and unadorned like Bresson, but Bresson slowed to quarter speed, bereft of any possibility of redemption, leaving only brutality, suffering, and, over all, an oppressive sheer physicality. In strict accordance with the well circulated theory propounded decades ago by Levi-Strauss, it belongs with those works which attempt to exorcise human demons by exposing them, spitting them out for all to see.
In a small Flanders village, Bailleul, a police superintendent, a particularly morose, melancholy little man, Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotte), investigates the brutal rape-murder of an 11 year-old girl, a crime he himself may or may not have committed. About half-way into the film we find out he "lost" his wife and child two years previously, and by the end of the film are left to wonder if didn't kill them as well. His very name suggests ancient Egyptian lineage. He lives a celibate life with his mother, Eliane (Ginette Allegre), in a working-class row house a couple of doors down from a woman for whom he has affections, Domino (Severine Caneele), but who is romantically involved with his best friend, Joseph (Philippe Tullier). The sexual tensions among the 3 are ambiguously both hetero- and homo-erotic. (Schotté and Caneele won awards for best actor and actress at the 1999 Cannes International Film Festival.)
The pace is s-l-o-w, like watching cows graze. The camera stares unblinkingly out at the world in prolonged shots, exemplifying the McLuhan-Warhol dictum that the medium makes the message (overtakes the message?). (Or is it that the tedium is the message?) Such monotony is supposed to defeat our conditioned expectations and force us back into our own world, make us take notice of the mundane, e.g., Warhol's sleeping subject. Real-time is meant to supplant artificial movie-time, resulting in a heavy physical presence, a naked unyielding reality, the world as it is sans artifice.
By this unabashed unedited naturalistic openness Dumont aims to: 1) capture the human animal in its native condition, the dumb beast which is all of us, as it desires, schemes, sweats, breathes, watches, waits, and imperceptibly ages; and 2) extricate from this hard-won unforgiving reality a realistic appraisal of man's true moral nature, of good and evil, disclosing their inexorable intertwining, resonant interdependence. With the investigator possibly being the investigated, there's that old ambiguous equality of cop and criminal, found, for example, in Norman Mailer's "Beyond The Law," (itself a Dostoevskian treatment), or in any of the innumerable routine actioners in which an undercover cop merges with his forged identity. The plot question of whodunit is supposed to fade into irrelevancy in the face of The Big Question of Good and Evil. The grief of the superintendent is the same, whether or not he committed the crime.
Dumont is a pessimist: man is fated to blindly act out his urges in a world he can never fully comprehend. Like the only witnesses to the rape, an elderly couple who rode by in a speeding train at 180 MPH, we ourselves are moving too fast and are too far away to ever see reality. Like the strikers in the film who capitulate to the bosses, we are too gutless to break the stranglehold of oppressive social circumstances. As enforcers of oppressive social order and conformity, the police successfully oppose the strikers, but are, when confronted with the real face of crime, its real human dimensions, impotent and indifferent, which is neatly summarized in the scene in which two cops casually look down from a high-rise building on a fight being silently played out on the ground. The Church constantly looms in the background. Symbolically situated at the end of the superintendent's street, its grey stone spires loom over him. Domino walks by a church, the camera peering in passing into its deep dark interior, through which a large white cross shines, remote, deathly. A museum has dusky blood-red walls, on which hang the paintings, postage stamp visions swamped by a sea of red. The white cliffs of Dover come in and out of view. ghostly, remote. We move through a world in which everything is unreachable, distant, and implacable.
But is it Real or Memorex? Stephen Holden of The New York Times writes: "This is a movie in which a close-up scene of something as commonplace as a woman peeling a potato implies an undercurrent of savage violation." But sometimes a potato is just a potato, a cigar just a cigar. You can slow it to a snail's pace, remove all the makeup and artifice, do away with dramatic dialogue and plot, but in the end film is inherently incapable of conveying the full sensory experience of life, of being in time, as this one valiantly tries to do, because it is limited to just 2 of the 5 senses, to sight and sound. It will always be shadows of shadows on a cave wall.
This isn't a film one "likes"; watching it is like wearing a hair shirt, an enlightening punishment. Rarely has the sexual act been as unattractive, as remotely observed; rarely, if ever, has a nonpornographic film depicted female genitalia as clinically.
"L'Humanité" is incohesive, only intermittently successful. Its many fine moments are separated by interminable stretches of tedium, their intensity diluted by blandness. The meaninglessness it depicts overtakes it. Like a bubble that keeps expanding, trying to take in the world, it ultimately bursts.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"the Life of Jesus" (1997), Bruno Dumont's previous movie ended with
the murder of an Arab teenager. "Humanity" (1999) starts where "the
Life of Jesus" ended: with the rape and the murder of a little girl in
the same small town: Bailleul. Obviously, police is on the alert to
launch an investigation and track down the slayer. A superintendent,
Pharaon Winter (Emmanuel Schotté) has been assigned to find him again.
If you think that you deal with a sempiternal detective plot and that the movie will be exclusively built around it, you are partly right. First of all, on the surface, "Humanity" is akin to any detective film with the usual ingredients of the genre. Yes, but Bruno Dumont, the director takes these ingredients back to concoct a recipe in his own manner. The first merit to be attributed to his work is that it bewares of every commonplace and every easiness of fashion. All the clichés which bit by bit endowed in an artificial way the genre of the detective movie have been shelved and consequently, Dumont's work is a real breath of fresh air. Now, if you take a closer look, the quoted investigation plays eventually a subordinate role and almost serves as a pretext to a nearly documentary about Pharaon's life. The less we can say is that his portrait is a far cry from the usual portraits of cops French and American cinema have been cramming us for several decades. So, Pharaon Winter is a policeman in Bailleul. He's the great-grandson of a famous painter with the same name. Throughout the film, we learn vague scraps of his tumultuous past life including this most important one: he lost his wife and little girl in an accident. Now he lives with his mother. He is also secretly in love with his neighbor, Domino (Séverine Cotreele) although the latter has a lover, Joseph (Philippe Thullier). The three of them regularly go out either it is in restaurant or by the sea...
So, Dumont goes beyond a simple history of killing to shot a real study of customs that would be worthy of an entomologist. Not only about the life of Pharaon but also on the close relatives who surround him, notably on Domino's and Joseph's. Then, to plunge more on the contents of the film and for a better understanding of it, let's write Dumont's words about the main reason which incited him to shot this gem: "I wanted to make a movie that would deal with the love of humanity while bearing in mind the reality which is grievous". Indeed, this humanity suffers and is made of rather dumb or sad human beings. and we mainly perceive them through Pharaon's eyes which are full of empathy and sympathy. With the presence of Pharaon, we learn to like them and become sensitive to their sorrow. In the last sequence when the murderer has been found (I won't reveal who it is), Pharaon kisses him on the mouth. If you don't bear in mind Dumont's words, of course, it will seem ludicrous to you but it is perfectly coherent with the philosophy of the film. On another extent, Pharaon sympathizes to the humanity's pain but this reality can be sometimes unbearable (the primal scream in front of the Eurostar, the embrace with the male nurse at the mental hospital. At last Dumont isn't afraid to shot the brutish sides of this humanity as the wild sexual relations between Domino and Joseph testify.
"The Life of Jesus" brought out a strong Bressonian odor in its cinema writing. In "Humanity" it fills the whole movie so much that Dumont could be Robert Bresson's deserving grandson and heir. Although he declines any link of relationship with the author of "Diary of a Country Priest" (1951), their respective cinema approaches perfectly agree: an absolute supremacy of the image, rare or reduced to the extreme dialogs to make the action progress and hiring of non-professional actors. Dumont's directorial style perfectly exploits these features and silence speaks much louder than dialogs. Through the actors' countenances and gestures, the viewer can guess or try to find what the comedians may think of. Dialogs are largely scattered throughout the flick, they notwithstanding contain another part of brilliance from Dumont: with few dialogs, he can express so much... Furthermore, Dumont distinguishes himself from Bresson and perseveres in his way with characteristics which belong to him. By watching this film, we can feel that there's such a will to depict life as it really is without distortions or extravagances and there's such an intensity in the presentation of Bailleul that it is close to the extraordinary and sacred. And of course, like in its predecessor, there's always this sharp sense of detail (which says a lot about several characters), of space and observation which contribute to solidify "Humanity" in its place of winner.
Such an arty work would be no worth without its actors. Like in "the Life of Jesus", these non-professional actors seem to live more than to act what they go through. One can't forget Emmanuel Schotté's neutral performance and his lifeless, melancholy face. Robert Bresson would probably have cried to work with him...
"The Life of Jesus" was the act of creation of an author, "Humanity" is the step of maturity and for Dumont it is astounding. A pure marvel as well as an undeniable tour-de-force in the so much massacred genre of the detective film, "Humanity" leaves an indelible mark in our mind. The odds are that this slow-paced, one of a kind detective film will throw a viewer or two, used in watching whodunits shot in a vigorous and dry manner but if you are sick of them, why not spend a DVD evening in front of this gem? If it hypnotized you, maybe will you see the world differently.
The director infuses this film with false depth by repeating a gimmick
throughout the film. EVERY single shot in this movie is 3 times longer than
it needs to be. You could easily cut out 1.5 hours of this agonizingly
2.5 hour film without eliminating: one word of dialogue, one image, one
event, or bit of movement.
This was one of the most gratuitous wastes of film I have ever seen. Other reviewers have called it pretentious, which is an understatement. L'Humanite is pseudo-intellectual trash designed to be anti-Hollywood so that the Cannes judges could assert their independence from the Oscars.
The IMDb reviewer states: "Unlike Hollywood movies - which usually force the audience into overdrive - this forces the audience to slow down and look at some of life's tiniest and most mundane features in great detail." You would have to be catatonic to stare at some of these images this long and move as slowly at these characters. This isn't real life unless you are heavily medicated.
Finally, I felt that Schotté's portrayal was a sad rip-off of Peter Sellers' masterful "Chauncy Gardner." He uses the same facial expressions and postures. He even gardens! In many respects there are parallels between these two movies. The main difference being that "Being There" moves along and doesn't rely on shock and gimmicks to create a meaningful experience while questioning various things we take for granted in life.
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