Monday, April 6, 2015

L'il Quinquin (P'tit Quinquin) – Made for TV

LI’L QUINQUIN (P'tit Quinquin) – Made for TV               B               
La bet’humaine (The Human Beast), Au coeur du mal (The Heart of Evil), L’diable in Perchonne (The Devil Incarnate), and Allah akbar! (Allahu Akbar) ─ 4 episodes, 50 mi per episode)  
France  (197 mi)  ‘Scope  d:  Bruno Dumont             Official site

In a Bruno Dumont film, we are never far from a horrific evil whose disturbance seems to define the center of his universe, coupled with the unspoken beauties and mysteries of rural life, as Dumont himself was born in Bailleul, a small town near Calais in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of Northern France where each of his earliest films were set.  Returning to the Boulonnais coastal region where the farmlands meet the sea of the English Channel, where on a good day you can see the White Cliffs of Dover, Dumont is listed in the credits not as the writer, but the “creator” of this sprawling work, a 197-minute murder mystery told in four parts of nearly 50-minutes each for French television.  As a result, the story unfolds in an even more leisurely manner than usual, filled with deadpan humor and comical overtones (What’s next?  A musical?) where a small seaside town is besieged by a series of bizarre murders, with a touch of the grotesque and dark comedy attached to each.  Seen through the eyes of a young boy named Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), who we meet on his first day of summer vacation, seen as something of a troublemaker and instigator as we follow him on his bike as he declares his everlasting love to his girlfriend across the street Eve (Lucy Caron) while also taking a keen interest in the particularly gruesome nature of the murders.  Like a play on the opening helicopter sequence in Fellini’s  LA DOLCE VITA (1960), where a helicopter is seen transporting a statue of Christ through the city of Rome, dolce vita first sequence-desktop.m4v - YouTube (3:10), capturing the rabid interest of a street filled with kids chasing after it, not to mention the curiosity of innocent bystanders, Quinquin races after a helicopter on his bike when he spots the surreal Buñuel-like image of a helicopter transporting a dead cow from an abandoned World War II bunker, where he soon learns the grisly details, that the headless corpse of a woman was stuffed inside the cow.  Called to the scene of the crime are police inspector Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his trusted partner Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore), something of a heavy foot on the gas pedal, especially in response to the inspector’s directive to “Let’s roll,” where immediately the audience can see something is not right, as even more bizarre than the murder itself are the quirky idiosyncrasies of the police inspector himself, beset by chronic stuttering along with uncontrollable head movements and nonstop facial tics, where the guy can barely utter a comprehensible thought without constantly getting interrupted by a series of mental hesitations and strangely off putting body contortions.  While he and his partner are caricatures of the bumbling smalltown detectives that couldn’t appear to be more incompetent, spouting worthless banter back and forth to each other that leads them absolutely nowhere, while the lead cop is a walking example of a physical and possibly even a mental deformity.  His prominent role in what develops into a police procedural belies his actual input on the case, as he never seems to be making progress but is instead lost in a series of neverending cliché’s and hunches that seem to represent the mindset and local prejudices of the region.  In a master stroke of ultimate irony, however, for three hours plus, he *is* the face of the region.  Not to be outdone, Quinquin is a peculiar looking kid himself, where the perpetual scowl and distraught look on his face belies his age, making it seem like he’s been given an adult head on a kid’s body, exhibiting more leadership skills than the befuddled cops, where his natural inclination is to be a bit of a bully, leading a group of dimwitted farm kids who amuse themselves by taunting strangers with racist or homophobic remarks while also throwing firecrackers at them.  Moving easily between the perspective of the police or the children, the audience is treated to a strange duality that exists in the human condition, where society overall has to continually come to terms with elements existing from within that are part good and part bad, while an unseen sinister presence lurks everywhere. 

Named as the #1 Film of the Year for 2014 by the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma magazine (Cahiers du Cinema's Top 10 Movies of 2014: 'Goodbye to ...), it marked the first time a TV mini-series rose to the number one spot in the rankings.  Listed as one the most favorably acclaimed films at Cannes, Cannes critics ratings, the film has perhaps surprisingly received some of the strongest reviews in Dumont’s career.  What Dumont has continually done best in his films is capture the essence of the region, beautifully photographed by cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines, who also shot Dumont’s previous film Camille Claudel 1915 (2013), where the physical characteristics of the land and its inhabitants become second nature to the viewer over time, where the natural world often overwhelms, given an almost Edenesque view of an earthly paradise spoiled by the darkest urges of human nature, with the director adding his own philosophical layering to his material.  This is the first Dumont film to offer a children’s perspective, where one leaps to autobiographical conclusions, whether deserved or not, as one can easily see the “creator” within his own creations, especially in the goodhearted nature of a curious kid that continually disobeys and screws up, is something of a terror in the neighborhood, but is also an altar boy and a steadfastly loyal and devoted friend to Eve, almost always seen together, regularly embracing or kissing each other, but that’s as far as their preteen relationship goes.  While they remain a portrait of innocence, the devil is on the loose outside creating havoc, each crime more hideous than the last, leaving the surrounding community in a state of helpless shock and outrage.  While you would think that would be the case, life seems to go on as usual in this provincial community, where each subsequent chapter reveals a little bit more about the most prominently featured characters onscreen, where everyone becomes a little less likeable as their prejudices and deficiencies are exposed.  The same can be said, to a certain extent, about a film filled with crude language and racial slurs, mixed with intentionally disfigured or mentally challenged human beings that populate the screen.  More than any other Dumont film, the entire cast seems to be chosen on physical characteristics alone, which at least in this film feels like a gimmick, where disabilities are used for comedic purposes, like an outrageous scene showing a couple having difficulty dealing with their mentally handicapped son during a meal, becoming parodies on people with legitimate physical deficiencies, some of whom are cast specifically because of their condition.  While the bumbling detectives make a mockery of everything they get their hands on (coming around one sharp turn on only two wheels, where the police car is nearly vertical with the other wheels pointed straight up into the air for several sustained seconds, an otherworldly, virtual impossibility without CGI effects, something this director abhors), using their authority to snub their noses at others, contemptuously looking down on the local residents while every shot exposes glaring deficiencies of their own.  This smalltown class snobbery is part of the make-up of rural isolation, where views of intolerance are particularly noticeable.  The use of children, however, exposes racist and xenophobic leanings in parallel with similar views expressed by adults, where in both age groups there’s a particular objection to Arabs or Muslims or anyone of North African descent, who are seen as dark-skinned laborers doing little more than minding their own business, where they are the targeted object of scorn and ridicule, where the hatred is all ingrained into the fabric of society.  This is viewed as a completely normal response in this town, as to think any other way would subject one to ridicule and scorn themselves.  What this film provides are serious social conflicts submerged into a collective subconscious that rise to the surface through the confrontational behavior of precocious kids, where fighting is part of their normal development, while it would be inexcusable and possibly criminal for adults to display this same behavior.   It’s one of the fascinating aspects of the film, where what accounts for human behavior on display is personified by physical deformity and hostile racial attacks.  The one is something that can’t be controlled, while the other feels more like learned behavior, where they lead to the same place, a gross intolerance for others who are different.   

When seen in this light, children inherit the collateral damage of the previous generation, beautifully expressed in several scenes where Quinquin and Eve are off on their exploratory adventures, especially the area around the bunker where the body was discovered, left untouched since the war, where bullets, grenades and other military materials have simply been abandoned with little regard for any potential hazards or consequences.  Yet another dead cow is discovered on a nearby beach with more human remains stuffed inside, where purely by accident a narrow passageway through the rocks is discovered by Quinquin, explaining how a farm animal can manage to wander from their pasture onto the beach, but this leads the detectives no closer to solving the murders.  However we do get a feel for the town residents through Quinquin’s interactions and the ongoing police investigations, which are more like character inquiries, allowing bits and pieces of information to enhance the overall atmosphere.  One of the best early scenes is witnessing the funeral services for the first body, where Quinquin serves as the altar boy in church accompanying the priest and other holy figures, yet the ritual they perform turns into a hilarious, Monty Python piece of physical comedy, where the ridiculous nature of each precise act performed in Catholic ritual only grows more absurd in Dumont’s hands, repeated to the point where each of them can’t stop themselves from laughing uncontrollably in front of the bereaved family.  What better way to express Dumont’s true feelings about organized religion.  In the middle of this orchestrated fiasco, Eve’s older sister Aurélie (Lisa Hartmann) sings a heartfelt song called “Cause I Knew” for the occasion, Bruno Dumont : P'tit Quinquin - Lisa Hartmann ... - YouTube (2:55), a musical theme that figures prominently throughout the film, later learning she’s rehearsing the song for a talent competition, which brings all the young forces, black and white, together, where her impressive talent seems to make everyone stop and take interest in seeing her perform onstage, " Lisa hartmann " - Cause I knew - YouTube (3:06), but racial divisions quickly trump any cultural harmony, where Quinquin orders his troops to attack a young black kid named Mohammad (Baptiste Anquez), “Those dirty Arabs can’t go after our girls,” yet the same kid is seen sometime later talking at the bus stop with Aurélie, where Quinquin drives him away with more racial vitriol, adding exaggerated ridicule by mocking her with a repeated chorus of her song sung wildly out of tune, mad at her for actually befriending a Muslim boy.  Mohammad’s fragile psyche reaches a breaking point, tired of all the bullying and racial epithets, where he goes on a shooting rampage holding off the cops, where under his breath the Inspector reveals this is typical of “Arab psychology.”  While more deaths pile up, none of them are ever shown, as the audience only hears about it afterwards with the detectives on the scene scratching their heads, but whoever is behind it seems motivated by a kind of religious fanaticism, performing a kind of neighborhood ethnic cleansing.  It’s a weirdly strange atmosphere of built-up toxicity, as if the population has been tainted by original sin, creating a town of slightly deformed misfits and miscreants that suggests genetic alteration, where the human condition has been permanently damaged by their own heinous actions and deeds.  In the end, the bumbling detectives are no closer to resolving any of the murders, where humans are clearly out of their element, forced to pick up the pieces and make what they will out of these abominations of human depravity, where the real world of today is not any safer, with various regions around the world under constant attack by ideological zealots of one kind or another who murder with impunity, paralleling Dumont’s films where evil dominates our existence.  There’s some question about whether this material ever rises above what we’ve seen before from Dumont (actually resembling a reconfigured collection of his greatest hits), or if television is simply a more accessible and entertaining way to reach a larger audience.  The film doesn’t pretend to provide answers or dwell in the realm of spirituality, and instead seems to exist in a godless void, as yet another bizarre variation on Pharaon, the holy fool, the slow, possibly dimwitted yet emotionally challenged police detective from HUMANITÉ (1999), whose power of levitation and otherworldly inclinations left him no closer to solving equally grotesque crimes, opting in the end to assume the collective guilt of mankind in a Christ-like gesture to save all of humanity.  Yet here, like Hors Satan (2011), and possibly TWENTYNINE PALMS (2003) before that, Dumont seems to be siding with the devil and leaning towards fatalism, where the added comic dimension doesn’t alter his stiflingly predetermined world that offers little chance for hope, where humans mixing with the beasts are doomed to exist in a purgatory of their own wretched misery.   

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