Pausing periodically so that the frustrated Pharaon can observe the long, graphic sex scenes between his young friends Domino and Joseph, Humanité is confidently absurd. Pharaon rides a bicycle into the countryside, arrives home, chomps down on an apple, and, in more or less real time, begins retching into the sink. Is he simpleminded or merely sensitive? The detective's method for interrogating a suspect is to grasp him by the shoulders and sniff like a dogwhich may be the way Dumont finds the extraordinary nonactors who populate his films.
Dumont's performers seem to have crawled from the margins of a Bosch painting, and thanks largely to them, Humanité is a movie of intense physicality. (It's the meta that's the matter.) Severine Caneele, who shared the best-actress prize last year at Cannes for her uninhibited portrayal of Domino, is a big-shouldered girl with a jaw to match and eyes set deep in a Cro-Magnon brow. No less a human potato spud, Cannes best actor Emmanuel Schotte's Pharaon looks perpetually dumbfoundedas well he might be. Humanité suggests that the cop is, above all, searching for himself.
The inert thereness of Schotte's being and Caneele's body holds the screen, but the illumination of inner life is a flickering candle at best. As the filmmaker told the audience at the Toronto Film Festival, "All characters partake of the allegory." His own role is something like a cosmic caption writer. Unlike Bresson, Dumont burdens his creatures with announced significance and leaves them on camera to take the rap.
Written and directed by Bruno Dumont
A Winstar release
Through June 27
Directed by Jean Vigo
Written by Vigo and Albert Riéra
A New Yorker rerelease
June 16 through 22
One of the glories of the old French cinema, Jean Vigo's 1934 L'Atalante, opens Friday, in a new 35mm print, for a week's run at Film Forum. Vigo's lone commercial movie, L'Atalante benefits from an extraordinary alchemy. The filmmaker, a temperamental anarchist, surrealist fellow traveler, and one-man nouvelle vague, loathed the mediocre script he'd been givena moralizing tale in which a village girl marries a self-satisfied barge captain and is taught by him and his pompous old mate to appreciate the monotony of her new life and scorn the decadent pleasures of the shore. Vigo followed the original screenplay while undermining its smug implications. As filmed, the narrative dissolved into limpid anecdotes. Quasi-documentary bits of business were scattered throughout, and, thanks to the performances, the characters appear far more complicated than written, particularly the unpredictably irrational mate sensationally embodied by Michel Simon.
Vigo's untimely death (at 29, a few days after a mutilated cut of L'Atalante completed its initial mayfly run) ensured that his particular vision would never grow old. L'Atalante is the world in springtimea place where shimmering reflections, smoky breezes, empty streets, and a free-floating sense of erotic energy are the essence of life and of movies.
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