review by Dan Lybarger, 11 August 2000

The French comedy writer Francis Veber describes the movies that some of his countrymen make by saying, "It is boring, so it must be interesting." Despite having won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, writer-director Bruno Dumont’s Humanité easily falls into this category. Despite covering potent topics like murder and voyeurism, the film lumbers for two hours and fifteen minutes, leaving its viewer with a feeling of indifference that swells with each passing frame.

The movie opens as a desperate-looking man stumbles through an open field. From the way he runs, it’s hard to believe that he’s actually a cop in the small village of Bailleul. Indeed, Pharon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté) has soft doe-like eyes and lives with his bossy mother, so he’s hardly the type to put fear into the hearts of criminals. Lonely and socially maladroit, he’s so desperate that when a couple are having sex, he walks in the open door and gawks at them.

All of these factors make him a joke in the town. Unfortunately, someone has just raped and mutilated an eleven-year-old girl, and Pharon has been assigned to investigate. If the stress from the case weren’t enough, he spends an equal amount of time carousing with a young woman named Domino (Séverine Caneele) and her sarcastic, hot-tempered boyfriend Joseph (Phillippe Tullier). The two alternate between angry shouting and sweaty lovemaking. Nonetheless, Pharon longs for the closeness they seem to share and even takes the verbal abuse that occasionally comes with being their friend. Hanging around with the two of them leaves Pharon with an eternally sour and guilty expression. Of course, another reason for his tortured look could be the possibility that he is investigating a crime he himself has committed.

The most likely explanation, however, is Dumont’s unorthodox and ultimately unsuccessful casting technique. The director reportedly scoured the French countryside searching for relatively untrained performers to fill the roles. On the plus side, his principals look as if they could inhabit a town like Bailleul. Their appearances lack the spit polish that some professional thespians have. The lack of high-priced hairdos makes the movie more naturalistic. Still, there’s no substitute for an accomplished thespian’s range. Schotté has a single expression: the look of a small boy who has soiled himself. Were he able to evoke other emotions, his performance would be far more empathetic and certainly more believable. In addition, if Schotté is always dour, Caneele and Tullier come across as abrasively selfish. Their torrid couplings seem extraneous, unconvincing and downright annoying. Rarely has big screen coitus seemed more uninviting.

Dumont’s dreary depiction of coitus is indicative of the attitude he imbues into the rest of Humanité. While it is commendable that he is willing to treat the story as something other than a whodunnit, he finds little that generates tension or even a reason to stay awake. His pacing is glacial. Worse, he loads the rambling tale with empty back stories (like the explanation for Pharon’s ennui) and pointless subplots (like a labor strike involving Domino). The long, wide shots and the eternity that stretches between them would be easier to take if the characters and situations were better conceived. Instead, Dumont demands the audience’s attention but offers them little in return.

Without likeable or even compelling protagonists, Humanité’s gloom feels as forced as the artificial happiness that permeates many Hollywood flicks. If The Dreamlife of Angels was a moving and worthy updating of cinéma-vérité, Humanité proves to be cinéma-merde.

Written and
Directed by:

Bruno Dumont

Emmanuel Schotté Séverine Caneele Philippe Tullier Ghislain Ghesquère Ginette Allegre




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