The transcendent second feature by Bruno Dumont probes the wonder and horror of the human condition through the story of a profoundly alienated police detective (the indelibly sad-eyed Emmanuel Schotté, winner of an upset best actor prize at Cannes for his first film performance) who, while investigating the murder of a young girl, experiences jolting, epiphanous moments of emotional and physical connection. Demonstrating Dumont’s deftness with nonactors and relentlessly frank depiction of bodies and sexuality, L’humanité is at once an idiosyncratic police procedural and a provocative exploration of the tension between humankind’s capacity for compassion and our base, sometimes barbarous animal instincts.
Bruno Dumont’s second feature, L’humanité, receives its North American Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode has been taken from a new 4K restoration, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
It comes off a bit better in comparison La vie de Jésus, having more of a film-like texture to it thanks to grain looking a bit better, but there is still a softer, processed look to it. Fine-object detail is limited, with certain shots looking better than others, and this ends up harming textures and depth. Grain is more noticeable in this film, but some longer shots look a bit noisy.
Colours are muted and dull, but I’m guessing this fits the film’s intended look, and black levels are fine if unspectacular (crushing is evident in some darker shots). The print has been cleaned up extraordinarily well, with a handful of small blemishes remaining, and motion is clean and smooth. Despite the nice aspects the final presentation just doesn’t have that same photographic quality I would have hoped for, especially for a film that isn’t all that old (for me, a film from 1999 is not old—just let me have that). It ends up being just a softer looking high-definition presentation.
L’humanité comes with a 5.1 surround soundtrack presented in DTS-HD MA. The sound design in the film is quite surprising, especially since this is a very quiet, meditative film. Most of the audio is focused to the front speakers with nice direction and panning. Quality is excellent, with dialogue sounding sharp and clear, and what music there is also has a nice crispness and depth to it. Fidelity and range are both also surprising: while most of the film is quiet there are a handful of shocking and loud bursts that can catch you off guard, with audio sneaking to the rears. It’s an effective mix and it sounds great here.
Criterion manages to round up a handful of supplements for this title as well, starting with a new interview with director Bruno Dumont that picks up where the one on La vie de Jésus leaves off. He explains the interesting origins of the film (it was inspired by the police scene in his last film, and he even offered the role to that actor) and then the search to track down the appropriate person for the role. He points out how the actors do play a big part in developing the character in the end, explaining how their personalities and quirks would suddenly become part of the character (Emmanuel Schotté’s refusal to do a sex scene or even kiss on camera for example, which led to more powerful scenes than what Dumont had planned). He also talks a little about the film’s final shot, but doesn’t share too much, leading him to comment on how important a filmmaker and his thoughts on a film are in relation to the work itself (not very). Again Dumont is engaging and is open about his work, but this one comes off a bit more energetic thanks to a moment where he likens the character of Joseph to the “Yellow Vests” currently protesting in France. He alludes to his feelings on the other disc, but he expresses them more clearly here. This interview runs 15-minutes.
Next is another interview between Dumont and critic Philippe Rouyer, this one running 31-minutes. Again, he covers some of the same ground he does in the previous interview, but gets into more detail about the production, working with his non-actors (and brining their own personalities into the film), stylistic changes after La vie de Jésus, using a crime genre to pose his philosophical questions on good and evil, sex and violence, covers specific moments and sequences (like the scene where the detective interrogates the two girls), and the effects work (the body in the opening specifically, which he almost cut out after certain reactions from audiences). It’s an insightful discussion and again Dumont is very open to the questions posed by Rouyer.
Criterion then digs up an excerpt from a 2000 episode of a French television program called Tendances, which features an interview with actor Séverine Caneele (Domino). She explains how she was discovered (Dumont came across her resume and she took the role basically as another job) and she explains how the film has changed things for her after floating from job to job, even getting other offers (to date she has done four other films). The program also visits her hometown and captures reactions from the locals on what it is like to have an actual film actor living there.
There is then a 6-minute news program from 1999 featuring an interview with Dumont, talking about the film and visiting locations throughout his hometown that he used in his two films (by that point). The disc then closes with the film’s French theatrical trailer. The included insert then features an essay on the film, its themes, artistic references, and so on, written by Nicholas Elliott.
Though more academic features would have been welcome I still felt quite pleased with the material we do get, finding Dumont a very engaging participant yet again.
A little better looking in comparison to La vie de Jésus but it still falls a little short. The supplements are at least engaging and insightful.