The follow-up to the acclaimed La Vie De Jesus from writer-director Bruno Dumont, L'Humanite proved a controversial Cannes prize-winner. Set in a dreary north-eastern French town, this languid two-and-a-half hour epic is ostensibly a police story, in which the brutal rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl is investigated by a plain-clothes detective Pharaon (Emmanuel Schotte).
The policeman, however, is an extraordinary character: initially pining for his next-door-neighbour Domino (Severine Caneele), he seems a shy pathetic figure, with his halting speech and slow walk. But he's also filled with a compassion for his fellow human-beings, as well as possessing an acute sensitivity towards Nature.
Those expecting a realistic crime drama will be disappointed. Instead, Dumont encourages his audience to contemplate the world he depicts and the mysteries of human behaviour, filming in long, static takes and using precisely centred compositions. As with the great Robert Bresson, dialogue is minimal and the focus is trained on the gestures, faces and routines of his non-professional actors. The cryptic final shot, meanwhile, is entirely in keeping with this demanding, troubling but also courageous work.