Humanity (L'humanite)

on September 02, 1999 by Ed Scheid
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   In "Humanity's" opening scenes, a man falls into the dirt in pain. He is Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotte), a thirtysomething police lieutenant in a quiet town is northeastern France. The mutilated corpse of a young girl has just been found. Without much aptitude, Pharaon investigates the murder, and seems overwhelmed by the cruelty he encounters.

   Schotte creates a unique characterization: Pharaon is always serious with a pained look on his face, and his life is full of silence. In the widescreen images of this film, Pharaon is alone or with very few people, emphasizing his isolation. Pharaon is friendly with his 23-year-old neighbor Domino (Severine Caneele), regularly accompanying her and her boyfriend Joseph (Philippe Tullier) on short trips. But even with them he rarely speaks; when he does, has a deadpan delivery.

   Like director/writer Bruno Dumont's first feature "The Life of Jesus," "Humanity" has a strong sense of physicality. Caneele is an uninhibited presence; she and Tullier have some frank love scenes. In one scene, her nude body is posed similarly to that of the dead girl.

   Dumont's film becomes a rigorous and methodical accumulation of the daily details of life in the town. The austere images combined with the unusual central characterization of Schotte keep "Humanity" surprisingly absorbing throughout the almost 2.5 hour running time. The character study of Pharaon becomes a bigger mystery that the crime he's investigating. Since little background or personal details about Pharaon are given, each of his gestures takes on an unexpected significance. When he does let down his guard, his actions have a fascinating ambiguity.

   Still, though Schotte and Caneele create realistic characterizations, the acting awards both received at Cannes seem excessive.    Starring Emmanuel Schotte, Severine Caneele and Philippe Tullier. Directed and written by Bruno Dumont. Produced by Jean Brehat and Rachid Bouchareb. A Winstar release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 128 min.

Tags: Emmanuel Schotte, Severine Caneele, Philippe Tullier, Directed and written by Bruno Dumont, Produced by Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb, A Winstar release, Drama, significance, love, dead, absorbing, ambiguity
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