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.
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|
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.