By Sofia Jesus

“In our language, we have no such word as ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ because what is expected of us is that we share and we give what we have. In the old days […] it was a given thing that we would share things. That was a part of who we are. […] But nowadays ‘it’s mine’. […] We don’t share our things anymore. It kills us as human beings, as a society, as a race — ‘the human race’.”

The words are from an Australian man, Aboriginal, called Stephen. He is one of the dozens of people from across the world that share their thoughts on life in Human (Vol. 1), an amazing documentary film directed by photographer and artist Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

The question that lies beneath this film — what is it that makes us human? — is answered, little by little, through people’s words as much as through their eyes. Eyes at times teary, on both sides of the screen. For these are stories of love and hate, stories of happiness, as well as of violence and hopelessness.

There are no actors. Only the close-up faces of shockingly honest people from an immense variety of origins and social backgrounds, speaking in their own languages, as they look directly at the camera — directly at you.

In Human (Vol. 1) — the first part of a wonderful and ambitious 11-film project — participants speak of love, of the condition of women, of work, and of poverty. And it is moving. Disturbing. Shocking at times.

People are portrayed speaking against a black background that brings such amazingly different lives closer. Unless you choose to see the closed captions, people are not identified — not by name nor by country of origin. And I loved this detail — for that, I’m sure, is not what makes us human.

The close-ups of people are alternated with the most amazing aerial images of life on Earth. Breathtaking natural and human landscapes that move us for their sublime beauty, to the sound of an equally divine soundtrack.

As the film provides the most complete — and perhaps the most beautiful, in its truthfulness — portrait of mankind I have ever seen, it also has the power to immerse us in our own personal lives, in our choices, in our hopes and despairs. Only to throw us back again into the awareness of this big wide world for a glimpse of the big, bitterly unfair picture.

At a certain point, a woman shouts at the camera, as if screaming: Are you listening? Are you listening? Are you listening?

It is as if the world is speaking to you. Perhaps — most likely — for the first time. And now that it did, a question remains: what are you going to do about it?