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.
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.
Emmanuel Schotté Séverine Caneele Philippe Tullier Ghislain
Ghesquère Ginette Allegre