HUMAN, documentary, not rated, in multiple languages with subtitles, The Screen, 4 chiles
French filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary Human tells the stories of ordinary people from around the world and the struggles they’ve faced. Arthus-Bertrand and a team of 16 journalists interviewed thousands of people from 60 countries and compiled a moving and compassionate portrait of humanity. Eyewitnesses to the Rwandan genocide, Syrian refugees, survivors of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, United States Army veterans, perpetrators of violence, victims of violence, and others tell their stories of war, oppression, love, and forgiveness. Their interviews are all in close-up with no names given, emphasizing that Human is one great story told through many voices. But interwoven in the telling of these autobiographical accounts is dramatic, captivating footage of people — often using incredible aerial photography — that shows how they live and work. These poetic images of toil, ceremony, ritual, and everyday life are set to a moving score by composer Armand Amar. Trimmed down from its original length of three-plus hours, Human is still a long watch but worth every moment. Winner of the best documentary award at 2016’s Beijing International Film Festival, the film premiered at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in 2015. Arthus-Betrand is a former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme.
Arthus-Bertrand doesn’t deal in numbers and statistics in his ambitious film, or report on current events. This is not a political documentary, although it touches on issues affecting communities today, such as the Syrian refugee crisis and the fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Instead, he simply lets the people voice their narratives. Though monumental in scope, Human is intimate, like a series of one-on-one conversations and, no doubt, many in the audience will connect or relate with at least one person’s message. It packs an emotional wallop simply through its emphasis on the sharing of personal experiences and thoughtful reflection on life, its meaning, and the future of humanity.
Some comments are hopeful, some are bleak. An American combat veteran talks about his need to connect again to feelings and emotions when returning from overseas, including his frustration at being seen as soldier first and a person second. An African villager tells how his people used to die only from sickness but the popularity of Kalashnikov submachine guns among the village youth has had a devastating effect on their life expectancy. A poor Indian woman tells how, when she has no food, she gathers grains of rice she finds in rat holes. A Sudanese refugee tells of victims killed by state sponsored acts of terrorism and how his sister was raped in front of him. A French woman speaks of her grandmother and her irrational fear of losing her memory of her forever, and a man tells of his commitment to caring for his terminally ill wife, taking on the role of home nurse. Their stories are poignant and honest, and the picture that emerges is one of universal suffering and survival and the power of the human spirit to endure.