From the Planet of the Humans (Dal pianeta degli umani) defies easy categorisation. It is a dreamlike documentary, fictionalising a border checkpoint at Ventimiglia where migrants often make perilous crossings from Italy into France. Near here, Dr Serge Voronoff gained notoriety in the 1920s for his work in trans-species grafting and transplantation – notably moving hormonal glands between monkeys and humans. This world-famous doctor fell into disrepute and obscurity as similarly experimental (pseudo)science drove mass atrocities across Europe; by the end of World War II he was all but forgotten. The transcientness and repetition of human history is narrated by none other than a chorus of frogs (well, a calm voiceover over hopping, swimming, and sitting close-ups). If nothing else, director Giovanni Cioni has created a cinematic meditation that will not be easily forgotten. 

Its format limits efficacy: From the Planet of the Humans feels like it has just scratched the surface of its subject matter, but more than eighty minutes would exhaust the conceit. However, the deliberately surreal atmosphere – moving between archival images and modern border searches, always returning to the frogs – creates the illusion of semi-conscious exploration. The film gently broaches its questions, letting its audience ruminate on science wielded for good and evil without forcing a viewpoint.

The most fascinating portions are its deconstruction of Dr Voronoff’s mythos and the absence of people in present day settings. The scientist’s successes and ethical breaches are presented frankly, with neither aspect diluting the other. Meanwhile, the camera moves silently over items left behind by fleeing populations, wondering on the morality of progress as so many are displaced.

From the Planet of the Humans may not quite reach a frog’s eye view of human absurdity. Its exploratory dreamscape, however, offers a unique if incomplete view of scientific and humanitarian crossroads. 



DIRECTOR: Giovanni Cioni

WRITER: Giovanni Cioni

SYNOPSIS: A migrant crossing point between Italy and France sees a chorus of frogs reflect on 20th century scientific endeavours and humanity’s dual capacity for creation and destruction.