A Bruno Dumont comedy? Maybe Michael Haneke will try his hand at one next. Dumont’s Li’l Quinquin is awesome, and though technically a TV show, it’s up there for best film of the year for me.
There’s a bit of Inspector Clouseau in here, and a lot of the earlier Dumont: racism towards the immigrant population in France; a young relationship that is at once innocent and anything but; a rural setting; occasional swells of non-diegetic music; high key, wide frames, with a mobile camera that often pushes in or trails the characters.
Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), the title character, is a young boy with a cleft lip and a hearing aid who, along with his local friends and girlfriend, Eva (Lucy Caron), watches from a distance as the hapless police investigate a series of brutal murders.
Quinquin is such a Dumont protagonist. He’s morally ambivalent. He can be racist, violent, and even for his youth, sexual. Actually, a lot of Dumont protagonists are like naive children, Quinquin just happens to actually be a child. There’s also a transcendent wiseness to Quinquin, one that is often ineffable, and seems to stem from the way he observes things in a detached manner.
Bruno Dumont will never be accused of casting people just because they’re beautiful, and that’s one thing I love about his films. He places the stereotypically ugly amidst the bucolic: cleft lips, limps, facial tics…they’re all here.
The odd thing – among many – about Li’l Quinquin is that for a murder mystery it’s almost entirely set during the day and there’s very little suspense. It’s more of a procedural than a mystery, and the director is clearly more focused on the lunacy of the happenings (dead bodies are found mutilated inside cow’s bodies) and the relationships of the characters.
The film is good for so many reasons. Firstly, it’s just so off-kilter. It’s impossible to predict and has a maniacal energy that’s really, really contained, but seems ready to burst (as happens when, for example, Quinquin and his friends decide to beat up Mohamed (Baptiste Anquez)).
Secondly, the characters are funny. The comedy is so dry and odd and much of it is derived from long reaction shots, Sellers-like bumbling, and absurd dialogue delivered seriously.
Lastly, Dumont isn’t just satirizing a small town. People in the town have real concerns, aspirations, and loves. Their relationships with one-another are all quite nuanced.
There’s a fantastic funeral scene, which is maybe the best scene in the film. It features an organist who won’t stop playing-
-and incredulous reactions from the bereaved:
But the funniest part is the goings-on at the altar, something only a (lapsed?) Christian might appreciate.
Aurelie (Lisa Hartmann) is a young girl in the village. What we don’t know at the outset of this scene, and what makes it so much better during and after, is that she’s also an aspiring pop-star.
She gets onto the altar and sings “Cause I Knew,” an original song that could be by any radio-friendly artist today. It’s hilariously inappropriate and made even more so by the priests in the background, who look at one-another not knowing what to do:
The scene goes on for the entire song, making it even funnier; Aurelie really gets into it, in full pop-star mode, arms out and all:
The scene is incredible and it becomes even better in hindsight when we watch Aurelie sing the exact same song at a kind of rural preliminary trial of American Idol. So, she was using the funeral to practice.
Another of the best scenes is when the priests can’t figure out when to stop kneeling behind the altar and standing before communion. Quinquin, the altar boy finds it hilarious-
-as do the priests themselves, who actually seem to be really enjoying themselves:
The crossbearer in the background remains stoic, offset the comedy in the foreground, making it all work even more.