In a small town on the outskirts of France, two incompetent officers investigate a bizarre and grisly murder where the victim’s body has been chopped up and stuffed into cows. So begins the bizarre black comedy that is Li’l QuinQuin, originally made as a four-part television miniseries.
Li’l QuinQuin is Bruno Durmont’s latest edition to his directorial filmography, keeping in line with his previous films touching upon themes such as racism, war, religion, politics and violence whilst equally balancing humour, love and childhood. Durmont’s world is witnessed through the experiences of a young boy, QuinQuin, whose shenanigans and mischief reveal the underbelly of the farming town’s small, quiet community.
What Li’l QuinQuin highlights is Durmont’s ability to create a believable community. Durmont uses only native French locals to play the characters and accepts their lack of acting experience and far-from-dashing Hollywood looks to create an authentic French town full of odd balls and eccentrics. Durmont embraces people’s facial ticks, disabilities and unusual behaviour, but in an understated way. QuinQuin, for example, has a hearing aid, but it is not presented as part of the story. Likewise, the peculiar character of Captain Van der Weyden is riddled with facial ticks and awkward head movements which are never questioned by the characters or story. These small nuances form a realistic portrait of the small community, a careful and truthful consideration of people in what they look like and how they act.
QuinQuin has a loveable nature towards his sweetheart Eve, but is also a racist bully. Captain Van der Weyden is bumbling, grumpy, incompetent, and the cause of most of the film’s comedic moments. Towards the end of the series, however, he evokes a deep sense of sadness when having to face the evil and gruesome nature of the crimes. Characters do not blatantly display their feelings or encompass one character ‘trait’. Their behaviour may seem out of place or unusual but in comparison to overly glossy Hollywood characters, Li’l QuinQuin’s characters feel more real.
Apart from the apparent odd characters, the film comprises of some weird, totally comical moments: two priests try to contain their laughter during a funeral; a balaclava-clad man exits the church in full sight of the Captain, who has just commented that the murderer could possibly have attended the service; and during the questioning of a suspect, the Captain awkwardly straddles a beautiful white horse, a fulfilment of his childhood dream.
However, these comical moments happen few and far between. The pace of Li’l QuinQuin can only be described as slow. The investigation feels as though it is mostly going nowhere as the two officers plod around the small town, questioning people who relate to the case. But this slow pace feels deliberate, evoking the relaxed rhythms of life in a country town – a town that is so slow moving that their history lingers in the present. War II bunkers, grenades, the celebrations of Bastille Day; the town history is drawn out. The community is isolated in the past, slow to leave its history, and slow to adopt new social attitudes and understandings.
Shot with beautiful cinematography and with an all-encompassing mix of themes, Li’l QuinQuin goes beyond the capacities of a TV series. Durmont has masterfully balanced confrontation with bizarre humour in his stark portrait of a rural countryside town.