Film Reviews

HUMAN

By • Oct 2nd, 2016 •

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If one lives in New York, and rides the MTA subway, one is surrounded by all sorts of people. Many of the passengers would see somebody else who looked like them; but many, or even most, would look different. If one was an actor or a writer, one might look at faces and, from their expression and body language, wonder about the story of that person’s life; but most people traveling on an often crowded subway would be preoccupied with their own life. Most people in this country do not live in New York, and are not surrounded by such diverse contemporaries. Many people in this country, and other countries too, are becoming scared by Diversity, seeing it as a threat to their own existence. This is why Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film HUMAN is so important, so timely, and so revealing in showing us that we are all participants together in this human race, sharing in common the basic facts of human life: Birth, family, survival from poverty or misfortune or war, happiness sometimes, and often grief, love enjoyed and disappointment in relationship too, questions about the meaning of existence, fears about and philosophy to comfort the reality of our eventual Death.

The film-maker spent 3 years interviewing 2020 people from 60 countries, asking them the same 40 questions and capturing their words in close-up portraits of their faces as they speak, face to face with the camera, and so eye to eye with us. What vivid faces they are, and what eloquent honest words. The glimpses chosen of the many experiences so intimately shared are a heart to heart treasury. A murderer comes to understand love through the forgiveness of his slain wife’s mother; a man is so thrilled with his new motor-cycle that he wants to bring it under the covers in bed with him; a wife finds long marriage does not get boring; men and women speak of how their happiness is their family; a nun is sad she does not have a family to mourn her, but finds consolation that she is a parent to everyone; a paraplegic finds a partner dating on the internet “though at first they did not want to know, but happiness is possible”; a man who lost his legs gained so many insights in other ways he would not take his legs back even if God offered; an Indian woman rails at world leaders to give her and hers a decent life; a woman is pleased that her polygamous husband only has 2 wives not 10; a man from Burkina Faso rejoices that Polygamy was allowed not for his wife as “I would be so jealous”; gay sons and daughters are shunned by parents, but an Australian father’s heart goes out to his son’s reticence to declare himself; veterans of various conflicts struggle to reclaim their humanity in spite of impulse for revenge; I wept with a man who was so happy he was able to nurse his dying wife all by himself; an old woman, who beamed that her ripe beans and corn are so beautiful, then declared “If I am happy when I am alive, then I shall be happy after I die” with such contagious merriment that I, and the whole audience, burst into laughter with her. This scanty sample does not at all do justice to the richness of the characters you will meet. You will have to see the movie for yourself. And I hope you will.

The film maker says he is telling his story in three voices: voice of the People; voice of the Earth; voice of the Music.

His love-affair with the beauty and harmonious patterns of our Planet is conducted in stunning aerial photography, which reminds us of what we would be losing if we do not pay attention to the climate change which is threatening to strip us of our birthplace. The music by Armand Amar, in song and instrument, soars to enhance and accompany the emotional poetry of the stories and the visual poetry of the images.

Anastasia Mikova, who supervised the interview shoots, has said that participants “would thank me, saying I was the first person to listen to them, or that it was the first time they had said what they had said”. This is what we all want and need: to find our voice, and to be heard by each other.

In this way, this film is deeply political, knowing that the personal is political.

It was premiered last year at the United Nations Assembly, and the film-maker intends it to be shown to as many students at schools and colleges as humanly possible.

To love each other, we need to understand each other; to understand each other, we need to listen to each other. Jann Arthus-Bertrand is telling us that this is the answer if we are to save the world in the end. He is drawing us into the circle to reflect together on what at heart it means to be HUMAN.

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