dir: Bruno Dumont, France, 2014
The bottom line: A film that dares to answer the question, “Can a person fit inside a cow’s ass?”
In the month of January alone, Chicago-area cinephiles will have the opportunity to experience what are likely to be the two most important film events of 2015: Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking 3D feature Goodbye to Language will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center for a three week run beginning on January 16 — in a hugely ambitious and admirable move, the theater is temporarily installing 3D equipment just for the occasion — and, as of last Friday, Bruno Dumont’s 200-minute, 4-part television miniseries Li’l Quinquin has been streaming in its entirety via fandor.com, with a theatrical release forthcoming. In a neat coincidence, both of these French masterworks topped the prestigious Cahiers du Cinema critics poll of the best films of 2014. Both are also being released in the U.S. by Kino/Lorber, an always enterprising distributor whose continued devotion to the best in world cinema from the silent era through the present day, in theaters and on home video (their recent Blu-ray of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is astonishing), has established them as a national treasure. The fact that Li’l Quinquin actually edged Goodbye to Language out of the top spot in the Cahiers du Cinema poll (where Godard, a former Cahiers critic, has achieved a kind of sainthood) is a testament to the magnitude of Dumont’s achievement. Even though Li’l Quinquin will be receiving a theatrical rollout in the States during the first quarter of 2015, I recommend that interested cinephiles who aren’t already on fandor sign up for a free trial and stream it online. Seeing it in 50-minute episodes at home, even if one decides to “binge-watch” most or all of it in a single sitting, is the way the series was meant to be experienced.
Like many American cinephiles, I first became aware of Bruno Dumont when his breakthrough feature, the infernal police procedural Humanite, was released in 1999. That disturbing epic about the investigation into the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in a small town in northern France, tricked out with an austere visual style and philosophical underpinnings, immediately struck me as one of the defining films of the late 20th century. My subsequent encounters with Dumont’s work, backtracking to his first feature The Life of Jesus (1997) and moving forward with Twentynine Palms (2003) and Flanders (2006), caused my initial enthusiasm to dampen; what I perceived as Dumont’s obsession with rubbing the viewer’s nose in ugliness struck me as both morally dubious and monotonous, so much so that I never even bothered to catch the director’s last three films (2009’s Hadewijch, 2011’s Outside Satan and 2013’s Camille Claudel 1915). Li’l Quinquin, however, is so masterfully made, so alive and so surprisingly and delightfully off-the-wall, that it makes me want to fill in on what I’ve missed and reassess Dumont’s entire career. In many ways Li’l Quinquin marks a return to the subject matter of Humanite: it too begins with the discovery of a female corpse in a rural French village, and uses the subsequent police investigation into her murder (and subsequent murders) to paint a portrait of a unique social milieu while also offering philosophical inquiries into the relationships between community, humanity, culpability and evil. What’s new — and very welcome — to Dumont’s work here is an absurdist sense of humor that occasionally veers into outright slapstick comedy; where the ultra-serious Humanite drew critical comparisons to Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Li’l Quinquin is closer in spirit to the David Lynch of Twin Peaks.
Li’l Quinquin begins with the unforgettable, borderline-surreal image of a dead cow being airlifted out of a WWII bunker by a helicopter (filming in his customary majestic long shots, Dumont apparently disregarded the notion of television aesthetics altogether). The police soon discover that the corpse of a woman has been stuffed inside of the cow and begin a criminal investigation. Dumont’s masterstroke is to show how these events unfold not primarily through the eyes of the police but rather through the eyes of the town’s children, specifically the titular character (Alane Delhaye), an altar boy who has a potty mouth, the face of a pugilist and a penchant for firecrackers. “Li’l Quinquin,” son of the local farmer “Pere Quinquin” Lebleu (Philippe Peuvion), has a girlfriend, the symbolically named Eve (Lucy Caron), and by allowing the plot to unfold mainly from the semi-comprehending vantage point of these semi-innocent characters, Dumont essentially splits the duality inherent in Humanite‘s childlike cop, Pharaon de Winter, into two separate realms: that of the town’s adults and that of the town’s children. The main police detective in Li’l Quinquin, Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) — named, like de Winter, after a famous Flemish painter — pointedly despises children, whom he is continually shooing away from crime scenes. Without resorting to caricature, Dumont paints Van der Weyden and his partner Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) as not only hilariously bumbling and incompetent but also, even more hilariously, as the two least photogenic cops in film history: the former has a toothbrush mustache and uncontrollable facial tics, and looks “rumpled” in a way that recalls Albert Einstein more than Columbo, while the latter is a beanpole who appears to be missing most of his teeth. Dumont’s knack for casting and eliciting remarkable performances from non-actors with striking physiognomies has never served him better than here.
Without giving any more of the plot away, the tension Dumont creates between the adult world and the children’s world in Li’l Quiquin handsomely pays off about half-way through the series when he introduces themes of racial and religious intolerance. One way Dumont bends the television format to his advantage is by using his expansive running time to show how prejudice is the result of social conditioning that can pervade an entire community (and the fact that one crucial scene takes place during a Bastille Day celebration indicates that Dumont means for his location to function as a microcosm of France as a whole); an idea that may have seemed trite in a two-hour movie seems fleshed out in its full thematic complexity at three and a half hours — and this is a series, keep in mind, that is still chock-full of narrative loose ends (rumor has it that a second season is on the way). Li’l Quinquin also strikes me as by far the most optimistic of Dumont’s films that I’ve seen in what it has to say about people; although very little is cut and dried in terms of “messages” one can take away from Dumont’s work, I think he wants to use the framework of the police procedural here in order to make viewers think about moral choices and how tenderness and beauty can flower even in the unlikeliest places and under the unlikeliest of circumstances (i.e., amidst both banality and evil). Dumont himself recently spoke, somewhat mysteriously, about the surprising interrelationships of comedy, irony and optimism in the series: “I believe irony is what is going to save us. That is also one reason why I really enjoyed making a comic film now. Comedy is the road for irony and it’s also the road for hope. Even if we know that Li’l Quinquin is only a small beast growing up to be a big one, there is some irony in knowing this. We also know that there is the possibility that he could become a good man. And he is a good lover. Really, irony is my optimism.” If we are living in a “golden age” of television, as countless cultural critics believe, Bruno Dumont’s masterpiece is proof positive that this golden age is not restricted to America alone.
You can check out the trailer for Li’l Quinquin via YouTube below:
January 5th, 2015 at 9:59 pm
Great post:) I am still working on my top 10 list of the year. I have the titles, but I am working on what I am going to write. I have finished three entries just now and I hope to have it up by the end of the week or something:) Again, keep up the great work as always:)
January 5th, 2015 at 10:41 pm
Keep me posted. I look forward to reading it.
January 20th, 2015 at 9:55 am
[…] Bruno Dumont’s dark comedy/mystery miniseries begins with the unforgettable, borderline-surreal image of a dead cow being airlifted out of a WWII bunker by helicopter in a small town in northern France. Local police soon discover that the corpse of a woman has been stuffed inside of the cow and begin a criminal investigation. Ingeniously, Dumont shows these events not primarily from the perspective of the cops but rather through the eyes of the town’s children, specifically the titular character (Alane Delhaye), an altar boy who has a potty mouth, the face of a pugilist and a penchant for firecrackers. “Li’l Quiquin,” son of a local farmer, has a girlfriend, the symbolically named Eve (Lucy Caron), and by allowing the plot to unfold mainly from the semi-comprehending vantage point of these semi-innocent characters, Dumont essentially splits the duality inherent in the childlike cop-protagonist of his earlier Humanite into two separate realms: that of the town’s adults and that of the town’s children. The tension Dumont creates between these worlds handsomely pays off about half-way through the series when themes of racial and religious intolerance are introduced: one way Dumont bends the television format to his advantage is by using his expansive running time to show how prejudice is the result of social conditioning that can pervade an entire community (and the fact that one scene takes place during a Bastille Day celebration indicates that Dumont means for his location to function as a microcosm of France as a whole). If we are living in a “golden age” of television, as countless cultural critics believe, Li’l Quinquin is proof positive that this golden age is not restricted to America alone. Full review here. […]
November 27th, 2015 at 11:20 pm
What makes Bruno Demont’s film quite enjoyable is the story around Li’l Quinquin, and his lover Eve, as well as the comical partnership between Commandant Van der Weyden and his partner Lieutenant Carpentier. Starting off with Li’l Quinquin, his face doesn’t resemble a young mans face at all. After you get past his fowl language, and his undermined antics, he seems more mature than what viewers would give him credit for. This article pointed out that Li’l Quinquin is a great lover, which is quite true. He acts totally different (most of the time) towards Eve. What’s surprising about Eve was her line of, “Do I satisfy you?” You’re not going to hear that coming out of a young girls mouth very often. They share tender moments throughout most of the film, except when Quinquin puts a dead rat in her face, or a dirty grenade. He’s there joking around with her at the parade, and consoles her after the death of her older sister. Moving towards the two police men, if they should be called that, it’s great to see how well they work together. Van der Weyden comes across as this anti-kid commandant with the most obvious facial defect. But, his prime goal is to find out what’s going on with the murders. Then, there’s Carpentier who kind of comes across as an idiot. He doesn’t really bring much to the table in terms of solving the case unless he’s cutting a cows ass off or calling the labs to see what was found inside the cows.
November 30th, 2015 at 11:40 am
I agree with what you said about Dumont’s film being proof that the golden age of television is not only restricted to America. Lil Quin Quin is very different from American television. The series portrays what would be a dark murder mystery into a comedy while critiquing racism and xenophobia in small town France. Dumont casts non professional actors which gives the film a sense of realism! Also the fact that the cops look hideous and that one of them has a facial tick is not something one would see in American television. In American television Lil Quin Quin would not be the one to say racists remarks , it would usually be said by a villain. Dumont also uses Bastille day as an ironic backdrop to one of the episodes. This series is very different from American television and it effectively paints a portrait of small town France.
November 30th, 2015 at 6:36 pm
I definitely agree with the statement in this review that Li’l Quiquin is both a morally dubious and monotonous film. However even though the film portrayed morally questionable and somewhat characteristics, I found that these traits gave the film’s audience a refreshing and new take on what a mystery/ detective film is. When this film was compared to older or different tv shows or movies that are known in today’s culture in our class discussion, it was said that other T.V shows have portrayed will portray their detectives as handsome, strong and quick-witted, almost treating them as heroes. However, in Dumont’s series, he decided to design the detective characters, Van der Weyden and Carpentier as incompetent and awkward because it gave his audience a more grounded and realistic take on what reality is like. I thought this message was also carried out nicely in the end of the film, when the murderer was still yet to be discovered, showing that in real life, there are no happy ending. I also thought that by allowing for the murderer not to be caught in the end, it gave the audience the rare role of being detectives themselves, leaving them with the thought of who they thought the killer is.
November 30th, 2015 at 7:49 pm
I think that the world that Dumont created in Li’l Quinquin was an amazing feat. The dark and twisted events were all very naturally tied together with the comical Quinquin to show difficult subject matters in an easier way for the audience. It was amazing because nothing felt out of place, it all worked together smoothly to convey the truth about racism and a commentary on the French way of life. On the other side, I really enjoyed the murder mystery portion of the film as well. It kept the audience on our toes and really showed that even a small village like this can create evil. The innocent looking people at the the time all have little secrets that slowly gets uncovered to show how evil they really are. Contrast with the Quinquin who always looks like he’s up to no good but ends up being the most innocent person in the film.
December 1st, 2015 at 10:59 am
Dumont’s combination of both the light and the dark really is such a spectacular feat throughout the film. There’s this investigation of these seriel murders and vile acts that are “performed” for lack of a better term to the corpses (chopping up the body parts and stuffing them inside a cow, the pigs eating the dead body). The islamaphobia we see in both the adults and the children also, is another darker side of the film, showing how the darkness of the adult world is tainting the innocence of the child. However, there’s also this lighter side to what is happening in the summer. Eve and Quinquin’s romance, the constant bicycle riding and the exploration with childlike wonder all showcasing an innocence that really merges and melts with the adult world, as you said. Dumont is really able to capture both childlike spirit and the harsh adult world.
December 1st, 2015 at 11:45 am
I strongly agree with what you said as far this serial being a dark murder mystery but, also possessing the traits of a comedy. I feel that these are the qualities that make this serial stand out from other murder mysteries that people would commonly think of. The comedy portions of this serial made it more enjoyable to watch and it was nice how Dumont did not want to take himself or this serial too seriously. What was also unique and enjoyable about this mini-series which was brought up before, was how Dumont decided to use some real life people as opposed to professional actors. For example, it was a smart move to choose the man who played the character of Van der Weyden. He was not a professional actor but, was a regular man who possessed the qualities of a French kind of Redneck. This was a better choice than choosing a professional actor to play a redneck french cop who possesses none of those characteristics because, it would almost feel forced and not real. My favorite quality of this film however, was who Dumont decided to make the children of this film the main focus and also give them mature qualities such as allowing them to curse, and also appear more smart than the adults of this film. I feel as though this gave the mini-series another depth of reality in he sense that children are not as naive as people would like to believe and can sometimes be more wise than the adults around them.
December 1st, 2015 at 1:20 pm
The fact that this film was a dark comedy based around murders in a small town in France and the fact somehow this story seems to mesh seamlessly is truly a impressive feat by Dumont. Li’l QuinQuin is boy living a mans life. He has a girlfriend named Eve and a Potty Mouth to match that of any man. As you stated Li’l QuinQuin is the mix between childhood and that of the adult world. What Demont did that made this serial truly great was to use everyday people and not actors. Nothing feels more real then having people who actually fit the role, because they naturally have the accents and the behavior of the created characters. Versus the famous actor who would be much to charasmastic and good looking to play these roles. This serial somehow manages to bring racial and religious intolerance by integrating it into Li’l QuinQuin and his friends lives with the immigrant boy who is treated poorly.
December 1st, 2015 at 1:29 pm
Dumont did a great job with LI’L QUINQUIN. The way that the comedy was incorporated into the series made it so much more enjoyable to watch and really lightened the mood up after being introduced to all the murders going on in such a small town. Dumont incorporated many views into this series and they are all very clear to leave a message. The religious, racial, aspects of series tied in beautifully. I love Li’l QuinQuin’s character, as a child he is extremely smart. Makes me wonder what type of man he will be. He’s tough but we also see how loving and caring he is not only with his love but also with his family and friends.
December 1st, 2015 at 1:58 pm
Li’l Quinquin is a very well made movie by Dumont. He managed to tie together comedy and a dark murder mystery theme into one movie, so it really feels like theres two sides to the film. This is a French movie, very different than your average American film. This movie uses normal people as the actors and little children where yelling racial slurs, both things you would never see in an american film. It’s very fun watching Li’l QuinQuin throughout the movie because he acts so tough but he’s actually a sweet and innocent boy.
December 1st, 2015 at 2:05 pm
Bruno Dumont gained his credibility through Humanite. It was a controversial piece, just like Lil Qinqin. Unlike Lil Qinqin, Humanite was serious and dark. Bruno Dumont uses murder mysteries as a way to show people in relation to the society they live in. Dumont uses humor in Lil Qinqin which is unusual for him. Adding humor made the movie less dark and distracted audiences from the language the children were using. The plot is mostly seen from the children’s point of view, specifically Qinqin’s point of view. Dumont’s characters are raw in the sense that they don’t look like actors. They are really missing teeth and have facial ticks, they aren’t trying to act that way. This adds to the emotion in the film because everything looks real. Lil Qinqin looks like a devious little boy who causes trouble. However, when his character is shown interacting with his grandparents and his overly aggressive parents you can’t help but empathize with him. You are reminded how young and impressionable he is. Hearing Qinqin’s character spew racial insults demonstrates that the behavior is conditioned by his surroundings. He swears in front of adults and even smokes a cigarette with one at the church. Dumont said Lil Qinqin was a small beast that was growing up to be a big one. No one takes Qinqin’s behavior seriously because he is a child, and no one wants to take the time to fix it either. The adults in the movie brush the children off whenever there is an issue. They talk about the kids as if they are pests and are out to get them.
December 1st, 2015 at 2:13 pm
On the surface Lil Quinquin appears to be a regular murder mystery film, but it proves itself to be anything but. What is different about this series is that it is a murder mystery that ends up having little to say about the mystery. Instead the film portrays various features of life in small town Europe. It explores issues such as racism, xenophobia, family issues, young love, and growing up. Many scenes reminded me so much of visiting my family in Poland when I was younger, in not only the scenery, which was nearly identical, but also in how the people looked and acted. This small town setting plus Dumonts dark yet funny style makes for a great series that is worth watching. I normally don’t go out of my way to watch foreign films, but I will be looking out for his future work.
December 1st, 2015 at 2:18 pm
Bruno did a great job directing this movie. He used comedy to distract the audience from the horrible murder that been happening in town. Bruno focused on lil Quinquin and his friends more then any a grown ups in town. He showed that sometimes kids see more then adult em can. He used an ordinary person to be the cop instead of an actor to show the rednecks that small town has in Paris. This movie also showed the racism that goes on in the country. Mohammed was just a boy trying to live a normal life untill society kept on pushing him and then he snapped and try to shoot everyone and then at the end killed himself.
December 1st, 2015 at 2:58 pm
I’ve personally never seen any of Dumont’s films, but I did get a sense of some dark undertones, but the humor with the detectives and the inclusion of the children helped lighten the mood and make Li’l QuinQuin very entertaining. There was a definite critique of xenophobia by Dumont in this film and it was so direct and in your face; something that would never be done here in the U.S. Dumont’s introduction of mentally retarded adults also seemed to critique the French reaction’s towards people with disabilities. That scene in the restaurant with Carpentier trying to hold in his laugh as the disabled man causes a ruckus , stands out in my mind. Overall, Li’l QuinQuin is definitely a film that people should binge watch. Dumont does an excellent job expressing his critiques and creating an interesting story to follow.
December 2nd, 2015 at 2:34 am
Bruno Dumont’s films are very hard hitting, and grabs his audience’s attention from the very beginning. In the film Lil QuinQuin, Dumont uses dark and weary humor that work very well together. This dark thriller is different than American style television, like certain things such as critiquing racism or xenophobia is pulled off in Dumont’s film, whereas in American style television, it would be seen as inappropriate content. From reading this review, I completely agree that Li’l Quinquin begins with the unforgettable scene of showing a dead cow being airlifted by a helicopter. Dumont does a great job from the very beginning to captivate the audience. Also what I found to be impressive was the film’s use of non-professional actors that added humor to this dark thriller.
December 3rd, 2015 at 10:06 am
“Li’lQuinquin,”is a four-part TV miniseries directed by the French director Bruno Dumont. In the world of cinema from the silent movie era through the present day, in theaters, and on home video, Dumont movie has been established as a national treasure. In Dumont’s work, there are ambiguous borders between documentary, fiction, and reality, in which one can’t say for sure whether actors are really acting or being themselves. For instance, the funeral scene presided over by the pastor and Dumont’s approach to his actors as equals. Also, the hugging scene when Li’lQuinquin held his girlfriend, she went stiff as a board and Li’lQuinquin was tense . Both were young and recalcitrant actors. The difficulty in doing the scene and actors’ tension is left to the viewer to analyze. There are scenes in the movie in which you giddy with delight and excitement, they lead you into thinking that you have to check if you are laughing with the characters or at them or perhaps if they are laughing at you.Surrealist scenes or mysterious metaphors used In Dumont’s work leave the viewer with the freedom to take events at face value, or at any other level.It is fascinating how a viewer transcends and transfigures the scenes. All in all, In Dumont’s work ,viewers finish the work.
December 30th, 2015 at 10:19 am
[…] Full review here. […]