×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Li’l Quinquin’

Bruno Dumont becomes the latest arthouse auteur to try his hand at longform TV with a wonderfully weird and unexpectedly hilarious murder mystery.

With:
Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernard, Bernard Pruvost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Peuvion, Cindy Louguet.

Perhaps not since Greta Garbo uttered her celebrated first chortle in “Ninotchka” has a film artist’s entrance into comedy been quite as unexpected as that of French director Bruno Dumont. A high priest of cine-miserablism drawn to Bressonian tales of spiritual suffering, Dumont lets loose his inner clown for “Li’l Quinquin,” a four-part TV miniseries that frequently suggests a cross between “True Detective” and Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops, while remaining every inch a Dumont movie, from its windswept northern French locales to its sometimes discomfiting use of nonprofessional actors. The odd mix of elements makes for an alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) hilarious and unsettling whole, and yet another compelling example of established bigscreen auteurs finding their richest opportunities in longform television. A more challenging sell than either Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos” or Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake,” Dumont’s pic should nevertheless see many fest bookings and specialized cable play following its Cannes premiere. In France, the series will air on co-producer Arte.

Dumont is certainly no stranger to the police procedural, having set two previous films — the Cannes-lauded “Humanite” and the recent “Hors Satan” — against the backdrop of murder investigations in the rural communities around his own birthplace of Baileul, near Calais. But neither of those movies featured so macabre and funny a sight as the one that begins “Li’l Quinquin”: the lifeless body of a cow being airlifted by helicopter from the depths of an abandoned WWII-era bunker. Inside the animal lurks an even grislier discovery: the dismembered body parts of a woman, minus only her head. It is, observes a suitably gobsmacked police lieutenant with deadpan aplomb, like something out of Zola — a literal “bete humaine.”

Of course, the line between man and beast has always been a fluid one in Dumont’s films, and as the body count rises over the course of “Li’l Quinquin,” it falls to two men — the good Lt. Carpentier (Philippe Jore) and his boss, Cpt. Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) — to make sense of the strange happenings. But whoever will make sense of Van der Weyden, who sports the bushiest, most expressive eyebrows this side of Groucho Marx (set in constant motion by a series of unexplained, Tourette’s-like ticks) and whose perplexing investigative methods seem derived equally from Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Clouseau? (The late reveal of Van der Weyden’s all-too-appropriate nickname proves one of the film’s deftest touches.)

But the local cops aren’t the only ones on the case: Because the events coincide with the start of summer vacation, they serve as a welcome distraction for the mischief-minded Quinquin (Alane Delhaye, a towheaded moppet with a blazing, blue-eyed stare), who whiles away his days playing pranks on his hapless parents and grandparents (the latter of whom are seen, in one of the film’s best gags, “setting” the dinner table by playing ring toss with the china and silverware). There isn’t much for a kid to do in this seaside nowheresville, and so when Quinquin isn’t hurling lit fireworks into the house, he and his band of similarly bored pals peddle their bikes around town, watching from afar as the police investigation unfolds — the most exciting thing, it would seem, to happen around these parts in ages.

Little by little, a sinister jigsaw puzzle begins to form, though Dumont takes as much evident pleasure from playing by genre conventions as he does in subverting them. The initial victim turns out to be a certain Mrs. Lebleu, the wife of a local farmer and the alleged mistress of a certain Mr. Bhiri, who soon enough turns up missing himself, as does Mr. Lebleu’s own lover. More body parts turn up inside yet more farm animals. The town’s bucolic surface is itself revealed to be but a thin film disguising a hotbed of racism and xenophobia, maladies that extend to even the youngest residents.

But while the plotting is always carefully thought out, it is to some extent an elaborate pretext for Dumont to muse on one of his favorite subjects: the nature of good and evil and how, if at all, we can truly know the one from the other. Just as “Hors Satan” focused on a mysterious drifter who was perhaps angel, perhaps demon, perhaps a bit of both, it comes as little surprise that one episode of “Li’l Quinquin” bears the subtitle “The Devil Incarnate” — as reasonable an explanation as any for who is to blame here.

To the fascination of some and the consternation of others, Dumont has always made liberal use of amateur actors afflicted with mental and/or physical handicaps that go largely unacknowledged by the characters themselves and everyone around them. Such is the director’s way of exploding the self-pitying ethos of so many disease-of-the-week movies, and giving a rare kind of agency to performers who would never make it past the first round of most casting calls. There can be no denying that this leads to some scenes that sit on an ambiguous border between documentary and fiction, in which one can’t say for sure whether the actors are really acting or merely being themselves (especially, in “Li’l Quinquin,” during an extended funeral scene presided over by an irrepressibly giggling pastor). Yet it is always clear that Dumont approaches his actors as equals, doesn’t condescend or exploit, and that they are as integral to his strange, stark vision of the world as are those slate skies over muddied fields.

Sure to be hampered by smallscreen airings, the series sports ravishing widescreen cinematography by d.p. Guillaume Deffontaines (who also shot Dumont’s previous “Camille Claudel 1915”), much of it in long, elegantly choreographed master shots.

Film Review: 'Li'l Quinquin'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 24, 2014. Running time: 197 MIN. (Original title: “P’tit Quinquin”)  

Production: (France) A 3B Prods./Arte France production with Pictanovo, with the support of la Region Nord-Pas de Calais and Le Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporains, in partnership with CNC, in association with Cofinova 10, with the participation of CNC and TV5 Monde. (International sales: NDM, Mexico City.) Produced by Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb, Muriel Merlin.

Crew: Directed, written by Bruno Dumont. Camera (color, widescreen), Guillaume Deffontaines; editors, Dumont, Basile Belkhiri; costume designer, Alexandra Charles; sound, Philippe Lecoeur; re-recording mixer, Emmanuel Croset; assistant director, Cyril Pavaux; casting, Claude Debonnet, Clement Morelle.

With: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernard, Bernard Pruvost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Peuvion, Cindy Louguet.

More Film

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” More Reviews Film Review: 'Staff Only' Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. More Reviews Film Review: 'Staff Only' Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling [...]

  • Jordan Peele'Us' film premiere, Arrivals, New

    Jordan Peele Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Us' Michael Jackson Reference

    Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us” is filled with pop culture references, from “Jaws” to “Goonies.” But the most divisive might be right in his opening sequence. Warning, minor spoilers ahead. More Reviews Film Review: 'Staff Only' Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' The movie about a couple (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and [...]

  • Swiss Film Award Winners Led By

    ‘Those Who Work,’ ‘Chris the Swiss’ Top 2019 Swiss Film Awards

    Two debut features in writer-director Antoine Russbach’s “Those Who Work” and Anja Kofmel’s animated documentary “Chris the Swiss,” were the big winners at Friday night’s Swiss Film Awards, notching three plaudits each. More Reviews Film Review: 'Staff Only' Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' Sold by Be For Films, “Those Who Work,” stars Belgian [...]

  • Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson doppelgänger

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' to Easily Surpass 'Get Out' in Killer Opening Weekend

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” will likely slay the box office competition this weekend. More Reviews Film Review: 'Staff Only' Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' It’s projected to generate an impressive $64 million through the weekend at 3,741 sites in North America, early estimates showed Friday. “Us” is over-performing recent forecasts, which had ranged [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content