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on 9 May 2004
Award winning filmmaker Bruno Dumont makes singular films that draw on the influence of people like Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman and early Federico Fellini, in a clear attempt to create an enhanced state of realism that works both for and against the film and the audience. Also, like his countryman Gaspar Noe, it could be argued that Dumont makes films that challenge the viewer to engage with a story that will undoubtedly take us to some very dark and often shockingly immoral places; giving us characters that are morally ambiguous, often loathsome and, in the case of our central protagonist here, almost pitiful. There aren’t many filmmakers who would choose as their hero of a desolate detective thriller, an innocent man-child who seems to be as socially inept and emotionally damaged as a person could be, but with Police chief Pharaon De Winter, that is exactly what we get.
Dumont makes his bleak vision obvious from the start, with the horrendous discovery of a murdered and mutilated child left naked and bleeding in an autumnal field. The image is a shocking and brutal one; Dumont giving us a punch to the stomach almost from the first frame with lingering close-ups over the wounds and filleted body parts. It’s an image that both establishes and surmises the film as a thematic whole... the loss of innocence being central both with the murdered child and with the character of Pharaon. It is the back-story and the fragile demeanour of Pharaon, and to an extent the evocative performance of non-professional actor Emmanuel Schotte, which anchors the film, giving the audience an emotional spectator. He is our representation. After the aforementioned grizzly discovery there are no macho heroics... Pharaon reacts in the same way as the rest of us; running back to his car, tears streaming down his face, lost in a kind of detached melancholy that continues throughout the film making it a far bleaker work than anything by the likes of Bergman, von Trier of Michael Winterbottom, etc.
Over the course of the film, the narrative unfolds, though we quickly realise that the real detective story at hand is not, ‘who is the killer?’ but more importantly, what has happened to make Pharaon the way he is. Has Pharaon had some sinister part in all of this, or is he merely a constant observer. The idea of voyeurism is an important one in Dumont’s work, with the camera rarely moving... always static, removed from the context of the scene and merely recording things for our benefit. This gives the film a greater degree of realism, though may be a little tiresome for viewers weaned on MTV style crash-cuts... (one hypnotic scene in particular finds our central protagonist tending his allotment for what seems like the best part of twenty-minutes. You have been warned). As the film continues to unfold, and the clues begin to add up we realise that this isn’t going to have a moralistic ending akin to an episode of Colombo (then again, with a central character who lives at home with a controlling mother, who adores the woman who lives down the street and allows her boyfriend to belittle him at every available opportunity and often stands monosyllabic at the back of a room... how on earth could it?).
Dumont has attempted to create a stripped down, bare-naked form of ambient cinema, in which it is the little character details and passages of silence, broken only by shocking violence and mechanical sex, that go towards creating the story. The ending of the film continues in this same vein, and, although it may have been ruined by the other commentator on this page, acts as a shocking epiphany in which every action and subtle line of dialog that has occurred during the epic running time is suddenly given a whole new meaning. Dumont has proven with this, his second feature, that he can reach beyond the tiresome kitchen sink theatrics of his first film, La Vie de Jesus, and incorporate distancing naturalistic techniques (no camera movements, no artificial light, non-professional actors etc) to create a film that is both horrendous and intoxicating in equal measures. Though ‘enjoy’ is certainly the wrong word to use with a film this bleak and confrontational, those amongst you who admire the work of forward thinking European auteurs like Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noe and Lars von Trier will admire and appreciate Dumont’s shattering tour-de-force...
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2009
L'Humanite is a profound meditation on the meaning of existence and the nature of film. Dumont situates the film in Balleul,the Flanders area of NE France,a coastal village.Nothing you have ever seen will prepare you for the slow drawn-out physicality of this provincial,rural backwater and the dull bleakness of its denizens.We start with a figure of a man running on the horizon from left to right filmed in wide screen.He is our eponymous main character,Pharaon de Winter, the policeman in charge of the investigation of the rape,violation and murder of an 11 year old girl. We have graphic images of her mutilated vagina with ants crawling over it. We dwell in the policeman's field of perception from when he throws himself in the mud at his shock at what he has seen, to his screaming to let out tension,drowned out by a passing train. He nuzzles criminals as if out of empathy.De Winter(Scotte) lost his wife and child 2 years ago, whether they left him or were killed in an accident we do not know. He lives with his mother who treats him like an overgrown schoolboy.He's friends with his neighbour Domino(Severine), a factoryworker, whose boyfriend,Joseph, a loutish bus driver, has rough sex with her.There is no tenderness in their spiritless love-making. Pharaon longs for closeness with Domino, not necessarily sexual. He often stands outside his house leaning against the wall,watching the passing world with his large mournful eyes talking to Domino with her sweaty sleeveless blouse which shouts sex.

Pharaon needs to be touched and needs affection and she is sensitive to this.He often tags along with her and Joseph when they go out to the coast or to a restaurant,often putting up with all kinds of insults from Joseph, lording it over him.Joseph breaks the law,Pharaon implodes with self-loathing. The investigation is very slow and meanders like the droopy headed,shoulder-slumped Pharaon. Domino offers her body to him only for him to run like a virginal schoolboy.He cannot separate memories of the dead,raped girl with Domino's body.He is a lost soul with the patience of a Saint but without the drive and logical mind of a policeman. There are hints dropped that Pharaon may be the killer. The leading actors are non-professionals, who embody what they want to communicate. This film is not a police procedural and is not about the solution of murder and this may disappoint the normal viewer.Pharaon's purpose is not to detect but more to bear witness to Being.You'll not forget his mournful, depressive,blank features for a long time. Dumont is in the class of Bresson, using non-professionals, his aim has been to bring back the body into cinema with all the sensations,physicality and overlapping of the senses and perceptions involved in that,though this may lead to a sense of stasis and unreality to some,it's unique and effective and will most certainly awaken you to a new force in cinema.
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on 11 March 2015
Deals very frankly with alienation and the pathos of sexual crime. But the banality of the ordinary lives the film evokes is memorable. The English couple who may have seen crucial clues to the murder of the child from the Eurostar train are beautifully played. Despite the brutal frankness of the sex scenes it is the pathos of the human condition one remembers. Scenes in the mental hospital underline the issue of alienation. Some viewers will find the film distressing and voyeuristic. But is its humanity that most viewers will remember.
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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2006
"L'Humanite" is a poignant character portrait of a small town French cop who is endeavouring to uncover the mystery behind the violent rape and death of an 11 year old schoolgirl. Although I guessed the culprits identity about halfway through the film, there is much to admire about this film. The two main characters, Pharaon the cop and his neighbour Domino, an odd couple if ever there was one , are acted superbly by Emmanuel Schotte and Severine Caneele.Pharaon's gentle ,quasi-traumatised, slow moving cop contrasts well with Domino's lascivious, feisty factory worker. The film is very slow moving and the plot is fairly slight , but "L'Humanite" maintains the viewer's interest throughout. Why ? Because the viewer cares about the characters and identifies with their struggles and emotional problems. We share in their humanity.
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on 23 December 2007
There are several problems with this film as far as I am concerned. The first is its grinding slowness. We see a man walking across a field, and he walks and walks. I felt a whole mile had been filmed in its entirety. Later, we see the same man cycling, with much amplified laboured breathing, along the lanes near his home. Then we see him turn round and cycle all the way back. There is less heavy breathing this time as it is mostly downhill. This man lives with his mother, to whom he speaks very little. We see him in bed doing not very much and we see him on his allotment, and watch him hoeing - for a long time. He has a persistent look of surprise, probably because of his saucer-like eyes.

The film starts with our hero walking the fields and the naked body of a young woman is discovered. We don't see an outstretched hand poking out from a shallow grave, or a single staring eye, but a full view of her genitals. It is a shocking moment. This is forgotten for the time being and we see the scenes of our man as I have described. We meet his young lady friend and neighbour, Domino, and her priapic boyfriend. They take our man everywhere they go - to dinner, to the seaside - in between scenes of copulation executed with an almost unbelievable lack of eroticism.

You try to make out who our man is. Is he a bit dim? Has he got Aspberger's syndrome? Is he unemployable and so has to busy himself on his lottery? No is the answer to all these - he is a Superintendent in the police! And he is investigating this murder. There are no police swarming over the fields, no press. The town is oblivious. I did spot the superintendent asking a question of some potential witnesses but if he was working his socks off for eight hours a day on the murder inquiry, it wasn't shown.

The characters in the film had some interest, if only in their blankness and lack of personality. There was barely any conversation and exchanges were mainly of a utilitarian nature - when to meet, where to go. There was no humour, few opinions. You wouldn't want to spend ten minutes with them. Perhaps the director has a jaundiced view of "humanity". His depiction of the sex act, though not inaccurate, seems to be saying, look how ridiculous it is when seen by a detached observer. These scenes, too, go on forever, without the slightest variation. Being made to wait an eternity for the next soul-destroying human exchange makes the whole thing intolerable and stretches the film to over two hours. The only thing that keeps you watching is the expectation that things just have to get better. But they don't.
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on 27 May 2015
This film bored the hell out of me. It’s about an autistic policeman who bobs about doing bugger all. The plot describes him trying to solve the murder of a young girl, however this only happens one hour into the film. Before this we get an hour of the autistic policeman having a holiday on the beach. It’s so bloody slow. There are a couple of interesting moments such as a man randomly levitating and a bizarre reveal of the killer, but it’s not worth sitting through the whole ordeal to see these moments. It’s a shame because I loved the directing and the atmosphere of realism.
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on 28 August 2015
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on 11 September 2014
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on 16 August 2007
A risibly unlikely film, centred on an autistic-seeming policeman in an unremittingly ugly Pays de Calais, L'Humanite will stretch your credulity and patience. Slow films are fine if they are beautiful, or intriguing, or compelling: this one, alas, is none of these, and by the end the only thing I was feeling was a mild sense of outrage that I'd wasted 2 hours of my life watching such a pointless slice of gloomy tedium. The denouement. when it comes, is unexplained. Unengaging, unbelievable and almost unwatchable - do yourself a favour and paint a wall instead.
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on 19 December 2001
Something's rotting up on the hill. I think it's me, the euro-film buff, after viewing this travesty bearing Cannes laurels. And if this bit of french cinema represents "l'humanite", there's big trouble for all, especially women.
Glacially-paced, soul-less, and almost dialogue-free, this piece of celluloid torture is, worst of all, downright misogynistic (And this comes from a guy who shares little to no common ground with feminism). The entire plot seems to be an exercise in destroying the initial premise: that detective Pharaoh de Winter has been traumatized by the horrific rape/murder of a young woman. The film opens with a graphic shot of the rape victim's bleeding vagina which clearly juxtaposes with a later shot of a female admirer's vagina being coldly rejected by the protagonist. While the real killer is of no surprise and the breaking of the case not even adressed, the shock comes when Pharaoh lustily kisses the accused male friend. Well, it's one thing to have no heterosexual feeling, but what disturbs me very much is the implied lack, almost sociological, of any feeling for the victim, his girl-friend, and the only person toward whom he displays outright (and unjustified)anger: his mother. This seems to be a rejection of women on all levels and by any terms whatsoever - dead or alive, natural or unnatural.
So, zero stars for the story. Zero stars for the terrible acting, and only one star for a few aspects of cinemaphotography. Let me add a resounding boo for the Cannes selection committee. I shall never be fooled again!
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