L’Humanite (1999)

5 06 2008

It was quite funny to watch this, a film completely unorthodox and (seemingly) free of influence after watching Assayas’ great but not so original Late August, Early September. I am not quite sure if this so much a compliment to Dumont as it is a statement of being totally blown away by this anti-investigation film. You’d think one could anticipate such craziness having already seen Twentynine Palms but apparently not. As fascinating and bizarre at this film is, it is also sort of too cynical in a way. It has a very heightened sense of mockery that does indeed taint an otherwise perfect film. Whether they be positive or negative, I can’t see anyone not having a strong response to his. It has infuriated countless filmgoers already but there are some (such as myself) that have been witness to a film that will easily outlive its more conservative peers.

The film starts unassumingly (but still brilliantly) enough. A long, wide static shot of a seemingly healthy landscape. The colors saturate to the point of appearing alien to the audience, which is fitting since Dumont himself believes that all film lovers are aliens. The principle character, Pharon de Winter, is introduced and done so rather dramatically. He runs, trips, and lands face down in the mud. He gets up, and enters his car rather methodically. It is clear at this point, that he has been deeply disturbed by something. The camera quickly cuts to a mutilated young girl whose rape and death serves as the launching point for the protagonist’s descent into madness. Perhaps the word “descent” gives a false impression as there is no dramatic lapse into stress. It also important to note that the rape of this eleven year old girl does not inspire a relentless detective persona in Pharon. Quite the opposite in fact, as the investigation itself plays little to no role in the film’s overall scope. Unsurprisingly, many people expecting some sort of Claude Chabrol thriller will end up disappointed, if not completely enraged.

Then, we are introduced to Pharon’s next door neighbors, Domino and Joseph, a sex-fueled couple who seem to be struggling. They invite Pharon along for their dates, probably due to his unobtrusive nature. Joseph tends to make a mockery of him, constantly pushes Pharon into awkward situations while Domino is more friendly and open towards Pharon. Tensions increase between parties in almost all of their meetings while the investigation itself is going poorly.

The above description is generally the case for almost all of the film as we do rarely find new “breaks” in the case, or developments and so on. Even when there is a significant occurrence pertaining to the investigation, it is downplayed and made little note of. On the other hand, Dumont studies the condition of Pharon, who clearly cannot only be traumatized by the rape and death of an 11 year old that he did not know. Along the way, we get “clues” offered as explanation for his state such as the fact that he still lives with his mother, or that wife and daughter died. Perhaps the latter is the definitive explanation for some but again, we are never given clear answers and more importantly, we don’t need them.

Dumont’s film is unquestionably a difficult one. Even those who considered themselves “veterans” in minimalistic cinema can have a hard with L’Humanite; I certainly did. The film clocks in just under two and a half hours composed mostly of long static shots of painful yet uneventful vignettes. From time to time, the camera appears aimless, following around Pharon as he drifts from location to location. It will be perplexing to some as to why Dumont approaches filmmaking in such a way. He is more alienating to audiences than even the forces of Bresson, Pasolini, and (early) Fassbinder put together. The reward is great for those who stick with the film, though, as it delivers one of the biggest emotional punches in cinematic history and has almost nothing to do with the fact that the criminal is revealed. Even after the film ends, the experience is not over. When I finished my initial viewing of L’Humanite I resided in a feeling that the film is enormously accomplished but too aware of its eventual impact on general audiences. I thought, perhaps, that it was even too slow for someone with such a high tolerance for this stuff as myself. Only today, the morning after, do I realize that has overpowered my thoughts to the point that I have to consider it a masterpiece. It is not an immediately rewarding experience like the work of fellow minimalists Tsai Ming-Liang, or Semih Kaplanoglu but rather one that is so perplexing and bizarre that it begs to be pondered over.

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