Li'l Quinquin

Posted by Joel Copling on January 7, 2015

The foremost thing that will catch one's eye about writer/director Bruno Dumont's "Li'l Quinquin" is its length--200 minutes or three hours and 20--but it has an oddball release pattern to go with it. The film is, elsewhere in the world, actually a television special, released in four fifty-minute segments in 2014 (As it has been released in a single theater in the United States in 2015 as one, very long film, however, here we are). It's an odd decision, because although the episodic nature of the picture itself might seem to warrant the treatment, it really works best as one entity. And what a concoction this is. Dumont juggles a psychological crime thriller to make David Fincher weep, a coming-of-age tale of startling sweetness (despite the boorishness of the preteen who is coming of age), and a slapstick but sobered comedy involving the two bumbling cops on the case of some horrific crimes.

In a small channel town in the pastures and beachfronts of France, something wicked lurks in the shadows. The bodies of a woman and her lover (a man of color) have been diced into bits and left for mad cows to eat. On the case are Van der Weydn and Carpentier, a commandant and his lieutenant, the bumbling cops in question. Van der Weydn, as played by Bernard Pruvost, is a real piece of work, as if Peter Sellers and Rowan Atkinson came together to play Columbo's slightly sadder, older brother. He has facial tics, and although they are pervasive enough to make us wonder whether they are the character's or the actor's, the effect is as disconcerting as his inner contradiction; he's prone to stumbling and hotheadedness, but he's a perceptive, compassionate man (He asks for a moment of silence from the crime unit when--possibly?--a third victim turns up, then prays over the body).

Carpentier, as played by Philippe Jore, is mostly there for his toothy grin and to be a soundingboard, but Dumont's decision to cast only novice actors pays off in spades, what with the eccentricities of Pruvost's appearance and mannerisms and the naturalism of the children's performances. Speaking of the children, there are three that matter here: P'tit Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), who is a delinquent, unapologetically racist, and believably human kid; Eve Terrier (Lucy Carron), who is P'tit's girl and has an unassuming beauty about her that recalls the classic Hollywood actresses, and Mohamed Bhiri (Baptiste Anquez), who is the son of the dead woman's equally dead lover and figures importantly but briefly into the narrative when the film is entering its third hour. These are not precocious kids, even as P'tit spends his afternoons exploding firecrackers in dangerous vicinity to other people; they approach documentary levels of natural character progression and development, and each young actor (again, impressive, considering this ambitious epic gave them their first starring roles).

The mystery of the deaths is consistently unpredictable, forking off into unexpected directions that are as absurd as they are haunting. When the first body turns up, it is headless, to which Van der Weydn replies to both Carpentier and, seemingly, himself, "So I need the head, basically." This is a desperate man on the path to a startling and twisted destination (It would clearly be criminal to reveal anything), and Pruvost's performance balances precariously (but expertly) upon the fence between caricature and human, ultimately taking the best-of-both-worlds approach. The suspects are a motley collection, and I'm honestly just going to stop there on the subject.

There's more--so much more--throughout the expansive three-and-a-half hours of "Li'l Quinquin." It would be difficult, indeed, to cover it all in a single review without seeming to over-stretch. Delhaye and Carron share indelible chemistry as kids who have naive ideas about love, but the film is tender and generous enough that it feels completely real. The two share a kiss that is sweet enough to melt hearts, but do they know what it really means? Anquez enters and exits the film so quickly that the impression he leaves is almost out-of-proportion; nevertheless, there is a distinctive and thoughtful study in this scene of the religious divide in this small town--and, in P'tit Quinquin's perversion of the line between black and white skin (about which the film is entirely honest but neither judgmental nor condoning), of the lines of race and class. There is more at stake for their town--believe it or not--than the body count at hand, and "Li'l Quinquin" mesmerizes in its patient examination of those stakes.

Film Information

Alane Delhaye (P'tit Quinquin), Bernard Pruvost (Commandant Van der Weydn), Philippe Jore (Lieutenant Carpentier), Lucy Carron (Eve Terrier), Philippe Peuvion (Pere Quinquin), Lisa Hartmann (Aurelie Terrier), Julien Bodard (Kevin), Corentin Carpentier (Jordan), Pascal Fresch (Monsier Campin), Jason Cirot (Dany Lebleu), Baptiste Anquez (Mohamed Bhiri), Stephane Boutillier (Monsieur Lebleu), Frederic Castagno (Veterinaire), Andree Peuvion (Grand-mere Lebleu), Lucien Chassoy (Grand-pere Lebleu), Cindy Louguet (Madame Campin), Celine Sauvage (Mere Quinquin), Bruno Darras (Le Bedeau), Sebastien Liss (Le Vacher), Yacine de Kellal (Copain de Mohamed), Didier Hennuyer (L'organiste).

Directed and written by Bruno Dumont.

No MPAA rating.

200 minutes.

Released in New York City on January 2, 2015.