French writer-director Bruno Dumont brought his second feature L'Humanite
("a film about sex and death", as Dumont deftly sketched it) to the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, in the teeth of great expectation: his debut La Vie de Jesus
had been widely adored. But many critics were bored and/or repulsed by L'Humanite
. Their scorn turned to fury when David Cronenberg's jury honoured L'Humanite
with the Grand Prix, and both male and female acting prizes. These distinctions may have bemused Dumont's non-professional leads, Emmanuel Schotte and Severine Caneele. But for Dumont's admirers, the prizes were an elegant tribute to a formidable new talent in world cinema.
L'Humanite concerns Pharaon de Winter, a simple man in his 30s, who lives with his mother in the provincial town of Bailleul. He seems to be a police detective, and he is assigned to investigate the appalling rape and murder of a little girl. But Pharaon would rather idle away the hours with his neighbour Domino, a mild young woman with a truculent boyfriend, Joseph. Nevertheless, that unsolved crime will not go away; and as Pharaon conducts his seemingly hopeless investigation, he is drawn inexorably to confront what he abhors--in our common humanity, and within himself.
It was the great French director Robert Bresson who suggested that "the supernatural in film is only the real rendered more precise. Real things seen close up". Dumont once wrote Bresson a luminous fan letter ("Je vous aime beaucoup"), and he is devoted to a similar kind of extraordinary realism. Like Bresson, Dumont has a power to refresh our way of seeing: he wants to show us the world in exactly the way that he loves it. L'Humanite challenges the viewer to live with its studied pace and unabashed peculiarity. You might love it or loathe it. But it is a brave, beautiful film. --Richard Kelly
When an eleven-year-old girl is found raped and murdered in Flanders, the man placed in charge of the case is police lieutenant Pharaon de Winter (Emmanuel Schotté) - an introvert who lives with his mother and pines for his neighbour, Domino (Séverin Caneele). She is aware of his attraction, and tries to involve him in outings with her bus driver boyfriend Joseph (Philippe Tullier), who regards de Winter as an unnecessary bore. De Winter becomes traumatised by the case, increasingly turning to Domino to comfort, but his investigation ultimately leads to a startling revelation.