“Human” — What Does It Mean?

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The human experience on Earth. This is what French photographer and director Yann Arthus-Bertrand tried to capture in his last movie ‘Human,’ which premiered Saturday simultaneously at both the 72nd Venice Film Festival and the United Nations in New York City.

While some qualified ‘Human’ as the Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ of our generation, Yann Arthus-Bertrand reportedly got inspiration from Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ (Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival).

After his 1999 worldwide-acclaimed best seller photo-essay ‘Earth From Above,’ filled with stunning aerial photography of Earth, and his 2009 praised documentary ‘Home,’ which has been broadcast in 14 languages, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a stalwart defender of the planet, presents his latest highly anticipated and ambitious work ‘Human.’

‘Breath-taking,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘authentic,’ those were some of the words whispered by the first members of the audience to step out of the cinema after the projection. This intense and compelling three-hour documentary presenting the extraordinary stories of ordinary people from around the world clearly did not leave the public indifferent. ‘Human’ received a standing ovation after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in presence of the entire film crew, themselves in tears and very moved by the reaction of a stirred public.

“I think the only way to make people think is through emotions. Not through the brain — through the heart,” the director said during an interview at the Venice Film Festival.

Close up faces genuinely staring at the audience with a simple dark grey background, no context nor name, age, nationalities or explanations but only eyes, mouths, tears and voices telling about their stories, memories and thoughts. This is ‘Human’. Mothers, fathers, fighters, victims, children, murderers who were all asked to answer the same questions involving the meaning of life, love, happiness and war among other essential topics. The interviews were selected among more than 2,000 involving people in 60 countries for a period of three years. We do not have to know who those people are but just listen to their words and what they have to tell us about the privilege of being alive.

The compiled interviews are subtly mingled with lyrical aerial nature shots, ranging from enraged waves crushing on rocks and lighthouses, or slow motion close-ups of children riding horses in a green field to the busy enlightened streets and skyscrapers of New York. Sublimated by a grandiose orchestral soundtrack by Armand Amar, cities, oceans, crowds, deserts and forests form the pattern of human experience as the sound of men and women voices mingle with that of the wind and the sea. Through an alternation of powerful images, words and sensations with the help of a dedicate team, Yann Arthus-Bertrand hoped to restore — or awaken — human compassion.

The concluding seconds of the film focus on a visibly touched interviewee in her late fifties addressing directly the film crew. What should have been simple greeting words to the few people present on that day of filming became a message to everyone:

“You’ve brought up a lot of things for me today. You’ve made me feel important. You’ve made me feel that I had something to offer. You’ve made me feel that I had a place to go. You’ve made me feel like my stories were welcome. And you made me feel happy.”

“I think people need to feel that they’ve done something while they’ve lived. They need to feel that they’ve contributed.”

“Today you made me feel that I have contributed, and I am very grateful to that. Thank You.”

‘Home’ and ‘Human’ are both available on YouTube


By Pauline Schnoebelen