Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In a world increasingly caught up in abstractions, trying to always avoid facing realities, is Bruno Dumont's L'Humanité one of the last-ditch efforts to try to make face people themselves, to recognize the stories in their lives, and to make an effort to clean up themselves, to find meanings in the beauty they could be grateful for?

The film is a stunning, brave, and unintimidated answer to the direction cinema has been taking over the past half-century: not just the Hollywood penchant for futuristic fantasies, but also the so-called arthouse or intellectual cinema of directors like Godard. It's ironic on first news that Bruno Dumont is an erstwhile philosophy teacher, but not anymore so, when you realize that sucked into a pseudo-science he realized how he's lost contact with the people, how he can't touch them, and thus he turned to film-making. This is where the wide gulf is between Dumont and Godard. Godard is what I call as "a philosopher" in cinema, referencing and referencing, stacking layers upon layers of meaning, and creating an edifice that will yield high cerebral pleasure to the ones in the esoteric circle; he forgets that cinema as the knowledge of life should touch people and should draw from people. But Dumont knows that the most beautiful edifice is only when it can be built from lay notions, lay words: humanity is a participatory experience, of senses, of impressions, of images and sounds and whatever we sense, and of the people we interact with. Stories are the most beautiful creations, whether fairy-tales or the tales of reality; and when told well, when the narrator is sincere to each of his characters and uses his voice only as the medium to communicate but nothing more, then the story is loved, speaks at least to someone's heart, incites passions and emotions and something to think. To different audiences, I may speak in different languages; but when I change the language, the heart should not go missing, the cores should remain intact.

Many people and critics, among whom some I respect, compare Dumont with Bresson. I do not agree. It is very difficult for me to explain why, but Bresson's camera is an objectifying, deadening gaze; it looks around without searching for meaning, without finding meaning. Dumont's camera is an absorbing, non-judgmental gaze: it looks around without judging, but still trying to understand the meaning. Note that even trying to understand is a kind of judgment, because what you are still trying to understand is not something you're still comfortable with and hence your mind is still active with it. On the other hand, can a complete deadening gaze of Bresson be called non-judgmental? Or, would you call it an indifferent gaze, figuratively speaking a cold gaze?

The remarkable thing about this film, L'Humanité, is that Dumont also finds an actor, Emmanuel Schotté (playing Pharaon de Winter), whose gaze is as absorbent; the character of de Winter reminds one a lot, a real lot, of Dostoyevsky's Prince Myshkin. It is a very, very difficult task to show how a man can feel utmost contempt for the crime, the act, and yet love and/or pity for the criminal, the perpetrator; how one can be in love with humanity, even if one keeps on encountering actions of a bewildered humanity, actions that one not only hates, but which eat up your soul constantly with their why?, how is it possible?, why?. De Winter is sexual and yet sexless; he can keep hoping blindly and endlessly for his neigbour Domino (played by Séverine Caneele) and watch her with a voyeur's gaze, and yet he can do that without a voyeur's delight, as if all the time he's trying to put 2 and 2 together, as if he's trying to understand the motor impulses of a human being, of humanity, that impels them to things like rape, murder, and the very commonly found insensitivity to another person. For, everyone's busy in their insensitivity: de Winter's mother, Domino herself, and all the world; life is a burden upon them, that they try to shake off, do a jig, and grunt again under its load. For de Winter, it's the uncomprehendingness ("incomprehension" means something else; I don't mean that) that is a bigger burden, against which he wants to scream; for once, he also feels the burden of the society that won't let him shriek when he wants to.