L’humanite (1999)

Slow cinema as an anti-police procedural, Dumont’s fascinating if unclassifiable work features a hypnotic Emmanuel Schotte (in his only film role), whose face must be one of the most arresting in all of cinema.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,235

Dir. Bruno Dumont
1999 | France | Drama/Mystery/Crime | 148 mins | 2.35:1 | French & English

Not rated – likely to be R21 for explicit sexuality, nudity and coarse language

Cast: Emmanuel Schotte, Severine Caneele, Philippe Tullier
Plot: When an 11-year-old girl is brutally raped and murdered in a quiet French village, a police detective who has forgotten how to feel emotions investigates the crime, which turns out to ask more questions than it answers.
Awards: Won Grand Prize of the Jury, Best Actor & Best Actress (Cannes)
Source: Doc & Film

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature – Human Nature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Just a word of caution that if you are not a fan of slow cinema, you should give L’humanite a miss.  Here we have Bruno Dumont, in only his second feature after La vie de Jesus (1997), fashioning slow cinema as an anti-police procedural. 

One might draw ideological parallels with other slow cinema examples that are also anti-genre, such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s anti-wuxia, The Assassin (2015), and Lucrecia Martel’s anti-conquistador drama, Zama (2017). 

Dumont boldly breaks all manner of conventions associated with police investigations and crime mysteries, while at the same time making a controversial work that shocked the Cannes audience at the time, particularly a notorious early scene featuring explicit genitalia of a young girl. 

But for me, I find it more provocative in how Dumont managed to calibrate a consistent tone throughout the film’s lengthy runtime—balancing an off-kilter, unnatural awkwardness with a performative naturalness that aspires to a realism of personal truth rather than real-life authenticity. 

“It’s horrible, Sir.”

And so we have to thank the non-professional actor Emmanuel Schotte (in his only film role that won him Best Actor at Cannes) for giving us one of cinema’s most hypnotic performances.  His face, especially, must be one of the most arresting in all of cinema. 

Playing a police detective (you wouldn’t imagine someone like him could play this role, which is part of the film’s endless charm) who is tasked to investigate the rape and murder of a young girl in an unusually quiet French town (so exceptionally beautiful and shot with a generous serving of extreme wide shots), Schotte’s character revels in solitude and the habit of staring into space where he finds moments of Zen-like calm. 

Dumont does try to allude to him being a Christ-like figure, who can heal others as he finds healing in others—in a way, a great companion piece to L’humanite could be Alice Rohrwacher’s astonishing Happy as Lazzaro (2018). 

In the final analysis, Dumont’s film is ultimately about how individuals each deal with past, present and future traumas, and how the desire for openness rather than simply closure may be the road to salvation. 

Grade: A


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