Adapting the novel by Belgium’s François Emmanuel, scenarist Elisabeth Perceval and director Nicolas Klotz (international critics’ prize, São Paulo) concluded their trilogy (Paria, 2000; La blessure, 2004) with La question humaine (clumsily called Heartbeat Detector in the U.S. and the U.K.), one of the most engrossing and highly intelligent thrillers ever. This ambitious take on recent European history connects globalization, corporate fascism and Nazism.
S.C. Farb, a multinational petrochemical corporation based in Germany (and a reminder of I.G. Farben, which helped Hitler politically ascend, and whose reconstituted corporate remnants still prominently exist), has seen losses in profitability in its Paris subsidiary. There, Deputy CEO Karl Rose, presumably concerned about CEO Mathias Jϋst’s strange behavior of late, instructs company psychologist/recruiter Simon Kessler to befriend Jϋst, investigate him and prepare what Rose hopes will be a devastating report. Rose wants Jϋst’s job.
Kessler’s investigation, which doubles as a discombobulating journey into his own heart of darkness, unearths Jϋst and Rose family connections to both wartime collaboration with the enemy and the Holocaust—the spirit of inhumanity and exploitation that globalization currently grotesquely expands.
Shakespearean, this tremendous film plunges us into dense dusk, indoors and out; here is a color film where grays hide history, obscuring human connections, where one man’s loss of a child echoes an earlier child who, encountering tragedy, has passed it on. Already on my list of cinema’s fifty best actors, Lou Castel caps his career as Arie Neumann, the former employee who brings fresh, heartrending meaning to the concept “the living dead.”
His superb cinematographer, Josée Deshaies, helps Klotz create other images of suffocating darkness, where traces of luminous activity are, hauntingly, barely discernible. Periodically the silent screen goes completely dark. Turning within, we see the world we are a part of.
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