P'tit Quinquin: a quintessentially Bruno Dumont comedy
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: Having a whale of a time playing around with the conventional police-enquiry genre, the French purist arthouse filmmaker has made an astonishing off-the-wall, and very funny, mini-series
“The human beast”, “At the heart of evil” and “The devil personified”: when you read the titles of the chapters of P'tit Quinquin [+see also:
film profile], a mini-series filmed by Bruno Dumont for Arte and presented in a single block edited together in a totally innovative way at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 67th Cannes Festival, you would think that the filmmaker seems to remain completely faithful to his favourite theological and metaphysical topics (which have earned him myriad awards, such as the two Grand Prix he won on the Croisette with Humanité in 1999 and Flanders [+see also:
film profile] in 2006). But to everyone’s surprise, it is actually a Blake Edwards-style reincarnation of northern France that emerges, taking us on an intriguing, and often ludicrous, visit to a small town on the Opal Coast, where a series of mysterious criminal acts is taking place.
P'tit Quinquin (“Li’l Quinquin”, played by Alane Delhaye) is a very enthusiastic young boy of around 12 years of age who lives on the family farm. It’s the start of the summer holidays, and he kills time by cycling around and pulling pranks with firecrackers, together with his two pals and his girlfriend, Eve. But something extraordinary occurs when a cow’s carcass is discovered torn apart and dramatically put on show in a blockhouse – and the corpse is all the more disturbing when the post-mortem reveals bits of human remains inside it. An unlikely pair of investigators from the national police force turn up in the town: Captain Van der Weyden (a hilarious Bernard Pruvost), who suffers awfully from a range of tics, and lieutenant Rudy Carpentier, who spends the film doing ridiculous rally-car driver manoeuvres. “We’re not here to philosophise,” one of them is quick to point out when a second dead body (that of a headless woman) makes an appearance. Brimming with red herrings (the lover and his mistress, the young terrorist in the making who is cracking under the pressure of the close atmosphere of local racism) and diversions, from a grotesque funeral ceremony to a talent-show evening, via the brass band celebrating 14 July, the inquiry creeps forward in a fog that is made ever thicker by three additional murders (the last victim is devoured by his pigs), while P'tit Quinquin continues to go about his normal teenage life.
Based mainly on running jokes, absurd humour (a blatantly obvious culprit pops up from time to time, wearing a balaclava) and a play on the concept of one’s double, the film is particularly funny and rich in self-mocking moments. Bruno Dumont pays his usual attention to the subjects that have always fascinated him: inheritance and the passing-on of evil, social hypocrisy and the day-to-day lives of the lower class (“That’s Zola!” one of the characters exclaims). And despite their comical appearance, the characters exude a great authenticity. For its part, the directing is absolutely exceptional compared to the usual level achieved by European TV series, and Dumont makes the best possible use of the resources available to him at the shooting locations (narrow country lanes, pastures, beaches, etc) and the highly expressive faces of his cast. And while the filmmaker shows off a new side by inserting laughter into his filmography, which had never previously featured any at all, we mustn’t forget that Humanité also revolved around a police investigator, albeit with a much more dramatic register.
Produced by 3B, P'tit Quinquin will be broadcast in France in four instalments on Arte in September, but the film version screened at the Fortnight is sold internationally by NDM.
(Translated from French)