‘La Question Humaine’ is an engrossing movie from start to finish, weaving together large contemporary themes: corporate life; the destructive manipulation of language; and the dynamic connection between the past and the present.
In Europe especially, WWII was the beginning of a new era of relationships between what had once been warring neighbors. And the holocaust described a technological application of killing on a massive scale. The result of the unrestrained and destructive Nazi philosophy was—and still is—a crease in the combined psyche. Man’s inhumanity to Man is a continuing backdrop to the concerns of many writers, artists, historians and others—and a subterranean shadow on the continent.
American viewers of ‘La Question Humaine’ might at first think such events too remote. This would be a great mistake because the underlying elements of the human condition apply to all societies, and one of the most important gifts of this film by Nicolas Klotz is his focus on the ‘deadening of language’ by those who want to conceal realities. For instance, corporate, government, and military vocabularies regularly substitute neutral words for what would otherwise be unacceptable descriptions: ‘units’ for ‘people’, ‘removed’ for ‘killed’, ‘low income’ instead of ‘poor’, executives did not commit fraud on a massive scale, they ‘acted unwisely’ or ‘in their own interests’. In a larger sense, also, concepts are simply removed from dialogue; it is unacceptable to speak of a class system in the United States even though one clearly exists, and society increasingly resembles the historical bifurcation of the population into two opposed groups—the rich and the poor.
In this sense, ‘La Question Humaine’ is a subtle interruption of the continuous flood of ‘deadened language’ washing over us by controlling interests. As monsieur Neumann (an elderly man who was directly involved in the last years of the Nazi state) softly cautions toward the end of the film: “Language is a powerful means of propaganda. It’s the most public and the most secret at the same time. The effect of this propaganda isn’t produced by speeches, articles, and flyers. It seeps into the masses’ flesh and blood.”
‘La Question Humaine’ like many European films, asks necessary questions about the nature of work; what is our relationship to it, and what are the results of the actions of the people in charge? The meltdown in the U.S. and in other countries should have been a dire warning that the present economic structures need seriously revised and monitored. Klotz’s film asks us to consider who we are as workers, and how that reflects on our humanity; who is making the decisions that affect our lives? Pointedly, the film awakens us to the real responsibility we all have as actors in the propagation and continuation of the largely unrecognized corporate and institutionalized current in which we are carried and carry others. This question is brought to the fore when Mathias (the CEO of a large German-French consortium in the film) asks an executive from personnel in charge of drastically downsizing the corporation’s workforce, “How do you reconcile ‘the human factor’ with the company’s need to make money?”
We are the ones that make the ‘machine’ work. Are we to be simply, “Ignorant lovers of free enterprise, giving it incredible energy and a form of disposable, instant, vital youth that wants to get its kicks, enjoy, compete and even die on the battlefield,” as Klotz suggests is happening with young corporate people? ‘La Question Humaine’, irresistibly invites the viewer into this and other questions about being human in a complex world.
‘La Question Humaine’ (The Heart Detector) (2007), France (143 min.); Directed by Nicolas Klotz; Cast: Mathieu Amalric (Simon), Michael Lonsdale (Mathias Just), Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Karl Rose), Lou Castel (Arie Neumann).