Human: Extended version VOL. 1 (2015) Review

Human: Extended version VOL. 1 (2015)
Director: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
“Human” is a three volume feature film directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand in conjuction with Good Planet Foundation, Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, and Google. It asks questions like: What makes us human? Love? Laughter? Sadness? Curiosity? Our ability to feel or our ability to relate?

I’ll admit, at first, I wasn’t too taken with this film. “Human” Volume 1 (the volume that I watched) starts off with about three and a half minutes of portraits and aerial shots. I was intrigued but only continued watching because I felt I had nothing else to do at the time. It was just interesting enough to keep me watching, but not so catching that I really wanted to stick around. That was only because that introduction lacked context however, and when the first interview offered some, the movie became that much more interesting.

In the first interview, there is a black American man talking about love, hurt and his history with violence. He tells how love was only accessible to him through pain and the amount of pain he caused other people. He talks about how this led to horrifying life decisions and how he’s grown through love and through those life decisions. It’s shocking to say the least. That’s how this film gets it’s viewer’s attention, by making them see a very real and often ugly side of the human condition.

If you want to watch another usual, linear film, this is not the movie for you. It doesn’t just tell one story meant to relate to the viewer; it tells a multitude of stories from people around the world: rich, poor, notable or not. The viewer is able to relate to or connect with these people because of the truth and brutal honesty behind their stories. It’s an amazing thing. I haven’t seen something this different or compelling in a long time. Yes, there is definitely a documentary-esque format to it, but the score and aerial shots help add new flavor to the style. Yann Arthus-Bertrand is not just a director, he’s also an artist, and because of that, the film is honest, creative and composed.

Shot composition is usually accepted at face-value by viewers because it’s implied that directors put at least some thought into how they want to shoot their films. Arthus-Bertrand takes this a step further: he sets up the subjects against a black background with impeccable front lighting. Those shots then contrast with aerial shots that are infused with motion, color and people. He highlights beauty in places that may first be overlooked, such as a landfill full of people searching through garbage to make ends meet.

All of this would not have been so shocking and intriguing, though, without the original score created by Armand Amar. It was subtle and calm. The music played off of the silence behind the interviews and allowed the audience to really feel for the conditions of the people in this video. It fit in a way that makes it impossible for the you to imagine the film without this score – almost as if any other score would have been inadequate.

Beautiful shots and score aside, while I was watching the movie I wanted to know more about the project such as where and how they recorded the aerial shots. I wanted to know how long it took to film and why they filmed it and who it has affected. The fact that I was thinking about all of that was good because this is an intentionally thought-provoking film. Still, I was uneasy because these things aren’t mentioned on-screen during the course of the feature. In the description, I noticed there was a link that leads to just about everything you might want to know about filming the actual movie. The way they laid out the website and created loads of behind-the-scenes material was engaging. It allowed for the message to go that much further  past the film itself.

By its end, I was very impressed with this film. The beautiful cinematography and complementary score draws the audience in. Emotions run like currents through the subjects’ voices. That, along with aerial and “listening” shots – shots of subjects “listening” as someone’s voice over plays –  make the viewer think that they are not alone in their empathizing. It accomplished more than just passing along a story, it called for the audience to be less self involved and that’s not a message we talk about openly nowadays. It’s because of all this that the film gets a…

Score: 17/24

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