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on June 4, 2001
After reading several favorable reviews of this film, and hearing numerous folks rave about it locally, I finally located a copy available to rent on dvd and checked it out for myself. After viewing it, I feel like I completely wasted my time and money.
I'm sorry -- I generally refrain from writing negative reviews, but this film has inspired me to break my own rules. I have seen many examples of European cinema over the last 30 years that I have enjoyed -- many of them I would consider to be masterpieces of the art form. I didn't find one single redeeming factor present in this work.
One review I read raved about the director's use of silences -- in this case I found it totally ineffective. To see a film where silence is truly integrated into the mood and story, effectively, check out Tim Roth's magnificent film THE WAR ZONE. It also manages to treat the subject of child abuse (admittedly in a different situation) much more sensitively and intelligently -- not as here, like a garish photograph seen in a tabloid.
The characters are completely unlikable -- with the possible exception of the detective's mother, who seems to regard all of the others with disdain. The sex scenes came across as tawdry and voyeuristic, and as such felt gratuitous.
And the plot...? Thirty minutes or so into the film, I had guessed the ending -- I saw it coming with the headlights on. The only challenge I found in this film was sitting through it to the end.
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on May 7, 2001
According to Amazon, people who purchased this film also bought the movie "L'Ennui." Well, this movie offers "ennui" with a vengeance and an additional purchase might seem redundant. This movie is so poor, it manages to progress from mind-boggling to mind-numbing in record time. The fact that it won two major Cannes "acting" awards says far more about the pretentiousness of the Cannes Film Festival than it does about acting ability. The movie lasts nearly two and a half endless hours, of which an hour and a half could easily have been edited out with no loss to content. The story concerns a police superintendent, Pharaon DeWinter, who is called upon to investigate the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old child. DeWinter, for starters, is unbelievable as a cop. People who investigate violent crimes and child abuse on a daily basis must have the ability to keep their emotions in check or they would be unable to achieve any type of objectivity or progress. Well, DeWinter is sensitive, warm and fuzzy, and completely unsuited for this job. When he's not weeping or hugging someone as his investigation regresses, he spends his off-hours with a female friend, Domino, and her handsome boyfriend Joseph. Early in the film, DeWinter walks in on the two of them having sex. Does he turn around and leave like most people might? 'Course not. He watches the entire performance until the lovers are spent. Observing this voyeurism, Domino, silly woman, thinks DeWinter is attracted to HER! I, being an observer of many dreadful French movies over the years, automatically know whom he REALLY is attracted to. I should mention that in all dialogue scenes between DeWinter and anyone else, especially Domino and her boyfriend, there are obligatory pauses, usually of a minute's duration, between a statement and a response. Of course, the statements are so matter-of-fact, even banal -- dare I say it? -- that they require at least a minute to respond in kind. In fact, I suspect the definition of hell must be this -- to be locked in a room for eternity with these exciting folks. Oh, did I forget to mention that Joseph, the boyfriend, also happens to be a school bus driver, who was off the day of the murder but who normally drives the children home from school using the same route? He even confides -- gosh! -- to DeWinter that he hates kids!!! (Hint, hint....) The raped and murdered girl, by the way, met her untimely end while walking home from the bus drop-off point after school. If you're starting by now to figure out the predictability of this totally predictable story, you win a gold star! As for the sex scenes, they're a soft-X. Whenever Domino is feeling horny, which is frequently, she starts squeezing her crotch. French subtlety at work! Another example -- Joseph offers DeWinter a pair of Domino's panties to sniff. He is positively repulsed! With all that squeezing going on, who could blame him? But he's not repulsed when he catches Joseph urinating against a wall. DeWinter bats his eyes and practically swoons dead away from this riveting experience, one of the movie's bizarre acting highpoints. Then later, when Domino tries to seduce DeWinter by stripping and squeezing her crotch yet some more, he rejects her! What a surprise! Finally, when after 2 1/2 hours, if your eyes haven't glazed over completely, and discover that the murderer is exactly who you thought it was from the first reel, DeWinter reacts by giving the killer a long, slow kiss. Shocked? Not really. Just bewildered that anyone could have been taken in by this rotten waste of time -- yours and everyone else's. The camera work, by the way, is about as exciting as the dialogue, which is to suggest that in comparison, it makes Andy Warhol's work on the Empire State Building seem like "The Terminator" for quick cuts.
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on May 21, 2004
Not for those who like action films, not for children and not a good first date film, Humanite is nonetheless a subtle masterpiece that molds the putty of murder mystery into a psychological thriller of infinite pathos. This Cannes winner begins with a disturbing shot of a violated 11 year old who is murdered. Then it founders in the minimalist, even nonplot aftermathh of this horror. A subplot of an erotic crush, repressed homosexuality, and a work strike follow as we follow this colorful noir about a touched superintendent (lead detective) who is the great grandson of a religious painter who paints, among other things, beautiful little girls, It then seems to go nowhere as the detective, who lives with his mother after losing his own child and woman, founders about in the sort of police activity that is more like the bureaucratic incompetence of most police cases than the plot twists of a murder mystery and thriller. In the end however we realize that this is far more than a successful whodunit. The lack of action is motivated by a world-weary denial that has religious overtones of the fall and indicts us all for complicity in what might be called reality's constitutive crime against innocence, symbolized by the opening rape murder and the gap between trying to comprehend it and the necessary but ultimately insupportable thought that the forces that led to it are absolutely alien to those observing. Not for the squeamish, and yet more so perhaps than life. The solution to the crime and the ability to look at ourselves are here inseparable-suggesting a symbolic meaning beyond the opening horror of this haunting and strangely realistic French film.
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on February 28, 2002
Pharoan de Wilder, the police superintendant of a small French city between Lille and Paris and protagonist in Dumont's "L'humanité," is far, far from the gruff detectives encountered in policiers and film noir. In his blank unblinking face and in his childlike padding through his investigation and life are family resemblances to the characters living in Bresson's movies, masterpieces of no action and less reaction. De Wilder, however, may also be related in some fashion to his titular compatriot, the late Inspector Clouseau.
Clouseau's cousin in a Bressonian film? The juxtaposition is facetious, and while watching the first revelatory and masterful half of this film, you would think such glibness on my part not only, well, glib, but outright barbaric. De Winter is investigating the murder of an 11-year-old girl in his small town; he is also little advanced beyond the mentality of an 11-year-old child himself. He lives with his mother, is devoted to his bicycle and his rose garden, and spends almost the whole of the movie in wide-eyed, half-confused regard of the world about him. He is drawn to animals and to the sun and limits himself to functional speech, often walking away in the middle of a conversation to stare out the window. In short, he is a complete cypher, unilluminated by the few details we are given (his girlfriend or wife and his child were killed or misplaced two years earlier; he served some time in the military; he ... at the keyboard) and thus perfect to project our own wants, desires, feelings and dreams upon. For me, de Wilder strikes me as one of Dostoevski's holy-fools or the lamed-vovniks in Jewish legend, an innocent so in sympathy with the world's pain that he must run screaming into some desolation, and yet so resonant with the world's beauty that he blooms with his roses. I think it interesting that [others find] De Wilder's blankness "a symptom of his" [the character's?] "rage and self-hatred," and interpret those two beautiful, mysterious scenes as signs of psychosis.
The film's other two main characters are Domino, a young woman who lives a few doors down from De Wilder and his mother, and to whom De Wilder is devoted, and Joseph, a bus driver whose hobbies are ... Domino and insulting everyone else. They are predicated entirely on their wanton hungers, and like every other character (the chief constable's relentless interrogation of the children, the curator preparing his exhibit, the rabblerousers at the restaurant) seem obsessed or driven to fulfil some appetite like everyone else. And this is humanity.
... the first half of the movie suggests these themes with beautiful and often startling imagery, fluid editing, with not a single jarring shot or reverse-take, and its actors deliver vivid performances (watch the frightening play of emotions dance in De Wilder's eyes as he says, "I do not wish to talk about it" and attempts a smile). And it is frustrating and heartbreaking to see these same ingredients continue admirably in the film's second half, where De Wilder seems to be spontaneously endowed with the superpower of smelling guilt (or maybe it's smelling fear? or maybe it's a spontaneous attraction towards gyus' necks? He was checking out the inspector's neck for a long time, hmmm...) culminating in the ability to suck mortal sin by use of deep soul-kissing. Maybe Bruno Daumont intended to shatter the contemplative reverie made so beautifully in the first half of his movie with such slapstick; or, worse, he didn't consider that his audience might find his deep Guilt-Is-Stinky scene pretentiuosly funny. Or maybe we Americans are estupide, maybe that's it.
The last insult added to the injury is how the initial shocking image of the film ... -- actionable, amoral, should be illegal to put on film, and yet an effective slash into the viewer of the monstrous enormity of the crime committed -- that image is made part of a rhetorical trope and visual leitmotif that substantially diminishes that image's shocking impact and its singular force. ...
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on December 27, 2003
This film takes you to a non-descript working class town in Northern France where the local police "superintendent", something like a detective rank, has the murder of an 11 year old girl to contend with. Do not expect a story about the investigation - unless you consider a scene several minutes long in which they ask the father of the girl if he can answer some questions, he says "no" and the detectives leave. There are a few French films I've noticed that are simply "atmosphere" with little to no meaninful dialogue and little plot. Most of them I hate, but this one is a little different, this takes that techique to a new level. The detective, who has the patience and the expression of the Sphinx, lives with his mother on a depressing street of row houses. The girl next door fits that description in terms of geography only. Our hero goes about his daily routine of living and working with such measured intensity and slow deliberate action as to make it nearly painful, if not somewhat hypnotic to watch. This film may appeal to a certain type of person, but I must admit that I continued to watch it just to see if it would ever really get to the point or reveal what it was trying to hide. It never really does.
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on April 16, 2001
Most of the reviews of this film failed to mention the controversey this film kicked up at Cannes and that despite that controversy, it took home more than one award. The lead actress was singled out for her performance as well. Yes, HUMANITE is a stark story of a world-weary detective and the murder of an young girl. Yes, there are several highly disturbing scenes. Yes, at times it seems as if the Director is a little all-consummed by the pain and anguish of the detective. However, if you can just see these aspects as part of a compelling Hyper-Realistic approach to a very tired genre ( The Police Procedural or even just a Murder Mystery), you may be able to see the sheer beauty of the work. While the content is upsetting, even the film's detractors admit that it is difficult to dismiss. We are seeing the birth pains of a new type of French Crime film here as well as the maturation of a new talent behind the camera. HUMANITE is a big Billboard that reads "More like this coming" to the observant viewer and for that reason alone it should be in every World Cinema Enthusiast's Library. In addition to that, it is a singularly compelling work about troubling subject matter from a Director who doesn't flinch. Unlike Hollywood today though, he neither rubs your face in gore nor uses violent sex to titliate and arouse. He uses grapic violence and sexual violence to shock you and then moves on without lingering in a Peeping Tom kind of way. Just like the Viewers at Cannes, there will be those who can't handle the honesty of this film but for those who can, it is worth owning.
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on June 15, 2004
Humanite is a film NOT to be missed for sure. Despite being by far the worst movie I have ever seen (and I've seen a lot of losers), Humanite grasps the essence of a typical French culture, and holds on masterfully. The protagonist, Pharon de Winter, and his detective boss accurately portray police as they really are --- slow, apathetic, and ugly? The chilling touch of Pharon's mucus which hangs from his lower lip as he goes on a long bike ride throughout the country shows how the French are able to protray the grittiness of the world, a notable quality. Speaking of grittiness, the gratuitous shots of a severed part of the female anatomy (you know which) heightened the integrity of the French film makers and caused me to lean over the side of my couch to respectively vomit into a pail. Only a film like Humanite could make someone do that . . . that's for absolute sure. And only a film like Humanite could show the trouble one has when choking on an apple. I felt Pharon's pain as he emitted a hideous noise from his esophogus in his attempt to eject a chewed up piece of an apple. I felt it approximately five times. And since I'm speaking of pain, the director's display of Pharon as a lonely, weak, homosexual, and pathetic loser were captured in his attempt to play piano . . . and hum to it at the same time. Yep, there sure isn't a movie like Humanite that has all of that in it. And I guarantee that there's no movie ever made that showed a furious man (Pharon in front of the mayor's building towards the end of the film) appearing as though he just developed a thyroid condition. Yes, sir . . . Humanite has it all. Love, sex, murder, anger, disgusting shots of female anatomy, pointless conversations, bike rides, detectives, trains, cars, scenes of a person choking on an apple, scenes of a person trying his hand at piano, and of course, Pharon de Winter. After watching this movie for the first time, a rather horrible taste of bolus and something else really bad enveloped my mouth and caused me to gag. I then immediately rushed here to write this up. If you haven't seen Humanite yet, you need to . . . it will change you, that's a guarantee.
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on January 22, 2004
In a small town in northern France the police superintendent, Pharaon De Winter, is working on a recent murder and rape of an 11-year old girl. Throughout the investigation Pharaon goes about his daily activities and socializes with his neighbor Domino and her boyfriend. Pharaon is also dealing with his own loss as he lost a wife and child two years ago and now lives with his mother who always puts her nose into his affairs. Together these issues bring out happiness and darkness within Pharaon that causes an ambiguous path for him as he must confront his own humanity. Humanité is an interesting film in retrospect, however, as the film progresses it becomes hard to follow as many shots go on for what feels like an eternity with passive characters. This creates a boredom that is very real, and one must think in order to escape dozing during the film. In the end, the boredom produced hurts the overall cinematic experience, but there is certainly something to be pondered in Humanité.
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on September 16, 2001
Pharaon de Winter (Emmanuel Schotte), the main character of Bruno Dumont's "Humanite" is so full of angst and self loathing that he is rendered almost speechless and motionless, which are not positive traits when you are a detective searching for the murderer of an 11 year old school girl. Pharaon's "back-life" includes his mother, with whom he is living again after the death of his wife and child, and his neighbors Domino (Severine Caneele) and her boyfriend Joseph (Phillipe Tullier). "Humanite" and Dumont's previous film "Life of Jesus" share many of the same stylistic traits: long quiet stretches where nothing happens, characters complaining about the hot weather and doing nothing about it and overt sex scenes to name a few. On the DVD version of this film there is an interview with Dumont in which he says that his main concern is the relationship between the viewer and the film not the relationships among the characters themselves! He also states that he was a philosophy student and teacher before becoming a film maker which explains a lot about the didactic, cold, almost bloodless quality of his films: Dumont is out to teach us something whether we like it or not. Despite this, we do grow to care about the sad-sack Pharaon, sex-pot Domino and slightly looney Joseph because the actors do such a sterling job of creating characters who though severely flawed, are nonetheless worthy of our concern and care. Though Dumont makes attempts to produce a thriller or "policier" as they say in french, he doesn't quite tie-up the murder investigation in the last scene which leaves us hanging as to the identity of the murderer....or does it?
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on May 22, 2001
Imagine for a moment that you're a cop in a small town out in the middle of nowhere where NOTHING ever happens. In addition, you live a dull, conservative life with your widowed mother. You have only 2 friends (not close ones) one of which you're in love with but can never fulfill it. Now... suppose a shocking "big city" murder did happen and it was your sole responsibility to find out who did it. You have very little clues, no support and no one that you feel comfortable enough to confide in. That would be pretty frustrating right? It would obsess your conscience 24/7 and affect what little social skills you have already. That is the very thing that makes L'Humanite work!!! This is a film based on one frustrated man's efforts to solve an evil crime. Its long, exhaustive and at times frustrating JUST LIKE THE CASE WOULD BE IN REAL LIFE. I commend Bruno Dumont for creating something so non-spectacular and believable. The world has had its fill of Bruce Willis shoot-em-up cop movies. I saw this film last year after it deservedly won the Grand Prize at Cannes. The fact that a whole year later, I'm still moved by what I saw, makes L'Humanite a 5-star film.
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