Most evenings I spend too much time scrolling through iPlayer, 4od, YouTube and pointless internet sites only to find myself becoming easily distracted from anything I finally put on. So when I received a recommendation from a friend to watch HUMAN, along with the warning from her that I would probably cry, I was thankful to have something of substance to watch.
HUMAN is a 2015 documentary/film by Yann Arthus-Betrand, a French photographer and environmentalist. There are three volumes, each about 90 minutes long. The film opens with several shots of people staring straight to camera, their faces set against a black background. Their expressions are neutral as they look into the lens, yet there is clearly something hidden behind every one of their gazes, whether this is suffering, sadness, strength; a unique story which only they truly know.
Arthus-Betrand gives these people, many of whom include those who have experienced death through conflict or circumstances a platform to share their troubles, to speak honestly about their fears, pasts, loves, family; anything they wish to tell the camera. They are of all ethnicities and ages, each individual pair of eyes staring back at you makes you stop and fully immerse into every account that is told.
The first interview is with a man who we discover is serving life in prison, describing his difficult upbringing, how this influenced his view on love which in turn led to his own destructive approach to life. It is a brutally honest interview, and offers a strong indication of what the rest of the films will entail. The striking portraits of real people are broken up by ethereal shots of vast landscapes, with some of these shots zooming in on people working or moving within these environments, contrasting these epic views of the natural world with the life that exists within it.
After watching the films the title HUMAN rang in my head, particularly the notion of what makes us Human, or what connects us as a species? The film touches on this through several themes; love, women, homosexuality, happiness, education, disability, poverty. For me, a few of the interviews stood out over others, one of an elderly Asian woman holding a visible lifetime of suffering in her eyes, and one tooth left in her mouth, speaking of killing her husband due to him beating her for years. Similarly, a soldier who talks of the act of killing another person, an act he now wants to do again but knows he morally cannot. While he speaks he has a cold distant look in his eye as he stares slightly off centre. There’s many more of course, if you have the time to watch them, and enough tissues beside you, that is.