Thursday, August 30, 2012


Most people I know that have seen Bruno Dumont's sophomore feature, L'Humanite, tend to consider it a slowly-paced pretentious mess. And to be quite honest, as much as I love this movie (its actually one of my recent favorites) I can kinda understand how someone would feel that way. The pace of the film IS a bit slow at times, the mannerisms of the (non-professional) lead actor are odd and the overall vibe is a lil' off. But if you're like me and happen to enjoy L'Humanite you'll see it’s the kinda movie that'll have you talking & debating for hours (especially the final scene). On the surface L'Humanite, which has the atmosphere of Bresson, a touch of Bela Tarr, Lodge Kerrigan & Haneke mixed with an episode of Law & Order: SVU, is a noir/mystery about a lonely police officer ("Pharaon" - played by Emmanuel Schotte) investigating the brutal murder of a little girl who went missing after she was dropped off at her bus stop after school. What's strange is that outside of the opening moments of the film, the death of the little isn’t even really mentioned again for another 45 minutes (almost half way in to the story). Instead, Dumont probes in to the life of Pharaon - he seems borderline autistic, somewhat childlike (yet mature), lives with his mother after being left by his wife and daughter (their absence is a little vague and it’s not clear if they left him, died or ever existed in the first place), constantly plays the third wheel to his friends; Domino (a factory worker) and her bus driver boyfriend Joseph and randomly zones out (which in my opinion is an important element to the story that we'll get in to later). Pharaon's relationship with Domino is kinda cloudy. Even though he spies on her having sex with Joseph and clearly has some type of love for her, it’s more like he's just fascinated by Domino (and all people for that matter) than he is attracted to her. The actress who plays Domino (played by then non-professional actress: Severine Caneele) was a great choice and she did an amazing job for someone who's never acted before in her life (especially given her role has many scenes where she's completely naked having soft-core/borderline pornographic sex scenes). Unlike most first-time or non-professional actors, there’s no awkward or cringewrothy moments. She's a natural. And speaking of natural, her curvy physique is another noticeable element. Instead of a typical, skinny, long haired "traditionally attractive" leading lady, we have a curvaceous woman with thick thighs and "meat on her bones". Both Schotte and Caneele went on to win best actor & actress at Cannes in '99.
Domino's boyfriend Joseph is pretty much the opposite of Pharaon - he's handsome (Pharaon is bug-eyed and odd looking). Joseph is loud, lively and has a sense of humor (Pharaon is quiet, dry and monotone). Right off the bat the differences between Pharaon and Joseph seem to be deliberate on Dumont's part and in my opinion it also plays a major part in the story.

For a police officer Pharaon is just downright weird. He looks more like an accountant or a creepy librarian than a cop. He has absolutely NONE of the characteristics of a police officer/protagonist you'd find in a modern day noir (especially during the late 90's/early 2000's with popular noir's like Memento). And he just has this intense, slightly "off" gaze through out the whole movie. Another aspect of L'Humanite that seems deliberate is the complete absence of guns, fighting, or some kind of a climactic chase scene where we see our main character tracking down the killer. Yet strangely enough L'Humanite still has its moments of suspense. Besides being an existential character study of Pharaon, the film is more like an unconventional cop drama instead of a thriller. Had the same story landed on the lap of an American filmmaker it woulda been a more traditional cop thriller full of jump cuts and shoot outs. Pharaon's investigation techniques are odd. Like our main character in The Element Of Crime (another neo-noir about a cop who has strange methods of solving crimes) Pharaon goes above and beyond trying to simply solve the case. When he investigates the crime scene of the murdered girl he reenacts, role plays and tries to put himself inside the mind of both the murdered girl and the killer. His investigative techniques coincide with his mannerisms and the way he carries himself around other people. Pharaon is fascinated by all human beings and tries to make sense of everything. This explains why he stares so much and focuses in on little details - the scene where he stares intensely at the beads of sweat on the back of his partners neck, the scene where he stares out the window at the traffic jam in the street while he's questioning potential witnesses and the time when he spies on Domino and Joseph having sex.
With the exception of 29 Palms, which I still haven’t seen, Dumont's work seems to always focus on "humanity", human beings making some kind of a connection or trying to understand each other (I know that sounds vague). All of his films have some key moments or similar shot where we see our characters embrace one another...

Top to bottom: Hadewicjh, L'Humanite, Hors Satan , La Vie De Jesus

Pharaon confronts Jospeh at the police station                              Pharaon in handcuffs in the final scene
Like I said earlier, the final scene of L'Humanite is the most talked about moment of the movie and is up for speculation (yes, it’s one of those open endings where the viewer can come to their own conclusion). In the final scene we see Joseph (Pharaon's friend and Domino's boyfriend) in handcuffs at the police station. As it turns out, Joseph murdered the girl. This makes sense as the little girl was last seen at her bus stop and Joseph, a bus driver, turned out to be the driver on the little girl’s route that day. There's even a scene where Joseph violently explodes at a table of people sitting next to him for being too loud and the way he has sex with Domino is always angry and aggressive. I guess these moments were placed in the film to show Joseph's dark side. Seems simples enough, right? Open & shut case. BUT...Dumont tosses a monkey wrench in to the spokes and fucks with our minds in the very last shot where we now see Pharaon in handcuffs sitting by himself. Is Pharaon really the killer? Was this whole movie a daydream of a twisted murderer who was never really a police officer to begin with? He's got all the generic characteristics of a serial killer: he's a lonely, somewhat creepy individual who lives with his mom (like Norman Bates) that zones out and stares intensely at the bodies of his friends and peers. Plus, when that final moment of Pharaon sitting in handcuffs sinks in, you think back and realize her never dressed like any of the other police officers and never even had a gun. Now there's some people that think Pharaon, who as we already discussed is fascinated by humans and takes his job to another level by putting himself in the shoes of both the victim and killer when trying to solve the crime, is doing just that by putting on the handcuffs to feel what it’s like to be in the murderers position. Sounds like B.S. to some, but I’m fascinated by this scenario and kinda hope that’s what Bruno Dumont was going for as an attempt to do something different and new as opposed to just a typical plot twist of; "the good guy was really the killer all along!"
Now...I've mentioned the (sometimes) slow pace of L'Humanite more than once in this write-up but at the same time it IS part of the New French Extremity (Trouble Every Day, The Pornographer, In My Skin, Demonlover, etc). So this film is not without its scenes of raw sex scenes (between Domino & Joseph), gruesome images (the little girl's dead body) and random moments (like the scene where Pharaon interrogates the Algerian suspect) that'll keep your attention and/or make you go; "what the fuck?". I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for something different. People with an equal love of art house cinema and Law & Order (like myself) will enjoy this movie more than the average person.

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