The crime in L’humanite is the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl on her way home from school, and practically the first thing we see in the film is the anguished response of the hero, detective’s assistant Pharaon De Winter (Schotte), to seeing her naked body in a field. Not long afterward, Dumont tries to get us to share Pharaon’s trauma by focusing in close-up on her bloody crotch. Some of the remainder of this 148-minute film dutifully follows the investigation of the crime until an arrest is made, but the details of what happened and why never become a central concern... A fearless filmmaker, Dumont seems willing to risk using characters as metaphors for metaphysical states of being even when this plays havoc with the usual expectations of storytelling. As a stylist, he likes to linger over his characters and landscapes with the firm patience of a portrait artist, and to allow a kind of calm wisdom to emerge from his contemplative moments. (This film is hysterical only in its subject matter.)
L’humanite is above all a film of physiognomies: the hero’s ruddy-cheeked, overweight boss is a kind of earthy physical type we’ve hardly ever seen before in movies–at least not since the 30s, when, as Manny Farber once pointed out, people hadn’t yet got into the habit of jogging and “every shape was legitimate.” Big-boned, desultory Domino, hanging out in front of her house like a refugee from Fassbinder’s Katzelmacher, is an even more painterly subject who seems to luxuriate in her own Amazonian diffidence. Like Pharaon, both of these characters seem to suggest that if you ponder some parts of the world long enough and hard enough, solving a mystery becomes a pretty trivial business, because it doesn’t prove a thing.