Five bittersweet vignettes that span the entire human history about five different men, all called Hector and played by the same actor (Robin Williams), who find themselves at a critical juncture in their lives. In prehistoric times, Hector lives in peace with his wife and their little son and daughter in a cave on a quite uninhabited island somewhere in the north. His world is shattered when a group of foreign pagan raiders led by a young chieftain and a somewhat pacifistic priest arrive there. In Ancient Rome, Hector is a loyal well-treated slave of Lucinnius, a somewhat naive big trader with political connections. When his latest shipment fails to arrive and the local corrupt governor Cyprion refuses to lend him money for his further endeavors due to bad omen that a professional soothsayer saw while reading the future from a chicken liver, he is ruined. To make things worse, just as Hector plans to ask his master for freedom and elope with his master's female African slave Thalia, ...
This is the story of a story. Once upon a time there was this story, and the story said to itself, how should I begin?
Try the usual way.
What, in the dark with a man and a woman, in a story that is still to tell itself?
Well, you've got to start somewhere. Say, long long ago... Or, far far away... Or, another time in a different distant country... Or just, once...
That's good. "Far away", so you know the place is close to your own heart. "Once" is nice, so we know that it always ...
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The life you live will be the same over and over again. You will repeat your lessons again and again in various forms until you have learned them. After learning it, there's evolution and wisdom. This is what can be said about this film except that it presents its stories without having this sort of spiritual value. It brings this idea of the eternal returning throughout this main character but it is developed almost like a fairy tale taken out of a children's book.
Travelling through different countries and periods of time, going from the Celts cavemen to the modern New York businessman, "Being Human" has Robin Williams playing a character named Hector and his appearances in distinct centuries trying to learn what means to be an human being. In the five short stories created here, Hector, living as an Celtic in the highlands, had his wife and children taken away by barbarians; was the slave of a dumb master (John Turturro) in a more civilized era; an married man who fell in love with an foreign woman, a few centuries later; a military during the Portugual's Maritime Expansion on Africa, conquering new lands and new treasures; and as troubled divorced man trying to reconciliate with his children of whom he hasn't seen since the end of his marriage. The movie fails in being real or accurate enough in all of the stories except in the last one which is very close to us.
Slow, of mannered delivery and hardly getting better as the stories unfold, "Being Human" is the kind of film that really follows its lessons, it'll only grow on you after countless views. In my case four attempts, of these in two I fell asleep (but always believing that there was something interesting there), one in which I watched the whole thing and didn't like and the last one in which my perception changed and end up being a good film, far from being a masterpiece that it could be. So, you'll have to watch this film over and over until you get something from it, then you can evolve into really saying if this is a good or a bad film.
This whole idea of a man trapped in strange and quite horrendous situations where every kind of decision ruin his life but always running to something else thinking it'll be better and lead him to a good life, was brilliantly presented in a book called "The Star Rover" by Jack London. In it, the main character is a prisoner that can recall his past lives as a way of escaping from his current pain of being tortured. But in those lives things don't get any better and he's always getting into more and more trouble. "Being Human" falls as an pretentious art film with symbolisms that never work and stories that are difficult to be involved with. Luckily, they have Williams as a main actor and we root for him whatever the Hector he's playing. We care for Hector in all of his situations because there's something there that is involving enough to make us imagining what kind of decisions we would make if we were him. In at least, one of the stories you'll put yourself into Hector's shoes.
Won't blame director/writer Bill Forsyth for the flaws presented here since this is not his original project, Warner Bros. forced him to cut the film and include an narration that is quite excessive and too much explanatory. The narration (provided by Theresa Russell) of a film destined to grown up's treats its audience as children, explaining many things we're seeing on the screen. It ruined some parts of the film. Result: poor criticism, an box-office failure and now who knows this film? I sincerely hope that one day Forsyth come out of the shadows and show to the world this film in its integrity in a director's cut DVD (even the known version is hard to find).
The things that attracted me into "Being Human" are the quality of the performances, not only Williams but also Turturro, Lorraine Bracco, Hector Elizondo, Jonathan Hyde, Anna Galiena, William H. Macy among others; the beautiful cinematography; Michael Gibbs fantastic musical score (specially the music presented when the movie enters into the 20th Century, an highly agitated theme). The story, at times, knows how to hold our interest but only for those who have an open mind to accept the concept of a man living over and over a similar life that bears only difference of costumes and periods of time. Hector's conditions and the way love acts in his life are quite the same, yet he fails to learn something from these experiences.
Very problematic but not enough to make you feel bad about it, "Being Human" comes as a good film about valuable and noble lessons that sometimes crosses our paths in this long journey of life. 7/10
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