Reviews of Human (2015) and related work

Human (2015Moving picture, 3.2 hours)

Seen in 2016.

Seen at Draken, GIFF 2016.

Love, hate, violence, poverty, happiness.

In part a wordless montage of gorgeous high-resolution, slow-motion images like Koyaanisqatsi (1982), but these are used mainly as short breaks from talking-head interviews, almost all of them edited down to a single cut of audio, almost all of one anonymous individual at a time, in close-up—face only—against an indistinct, flat dark backdrop. The interviewers are neither heard nor seen, and most of the interview subjects are only seen, saying nothing, while another subject is talking.

The environmental sequences are very nice, well scored and effective in their limited purpose as bumpers for the interviews. Of the interviews, only a disappearingly small number are pointless. Some are very strong, including two US soldiers who’ve returned from the Middle East: One describes having become addicted to killing, and the other how the sight of two civilians and the beautiful blue sky over an orange plantation broke his rush for vengeance, in the strongest connection to the bumpers.

The selection of interviews was clearly based on some idea of contemporary “human interest” under a time limit, rather than a focused effort to describe the entire species truthfully to itself through self-description by its individuals. The span is almost broad enough, and there is a lot of horror and sadness in the stories, but I perceive a silent endorsement of self-delusion. Dangerous supernatural beliefs about luck, divine intervention and teleology are all on display, and I gather that this was encouraged. One interview question concerns the meaning of life, implying the existence of such a thing.

The speaking prisoners are all reformed, thoughtful, apparently at peace. One woman describes how she, at age 2, was given over to the custody of an SS officer by her Jewish mother. The officer’s choice to save the girl is an act neither more nor less human than the Shoah itself, but while there are some unsympathetic voices, there are no perpetrators of genocide speaking here. As usual, “human” gets conflated with “humane” and the whole thing comes off as a slightly hesitant celebration of one species by that species. Within the limits of that unpleasant genre, it’s excellent work.

References here: Untitled (2017).

moving picture non-fiction

The Making of Human (2015Moving picture)

Seen in 2016.

120 tractors. That is a lot of tractors.

documentary moving picture non-fiction

Woman (2019Moving picture, 105 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The same format, but only women, on traditional feminist topics.

It’s good in all the same ways as the original, except that the intermissions are less about the non-human environment, and this time, even the unsympathetic people are cut. The closest thing you get is a superficial young French woman who says it’s hard to be a woman because it’s a lot of effort to depilate and change clothes etc. for all your dates. The audience at GIFF laughed at her cluelessness.

Topics include menstruation, sexuality, pregnancy, childbirth and the significance of motherhood to one’s social status, but none of the interview subjects talk about infertility or even menopause. Trans women are represented but do not broach these topics. This prompts the question what a further sequel, Man, would be about.

References here: “100 Vaginas” (2019).

fiction moving picture sequel