Bruno Dumont Explores the Realm of a Screwball Comedy

in 25th Tromso International Film Festival

by Paulo Portugal

Who would have imagined that the author of La Vie de Jesus, Humanité or Camille Claudel 1915 would embark on exploring the shapes of comedy in the best screwball style, and without any contempt? In recent interviews Bruno Dumont expressed a desire to approach a wider audience, and his small screen debut just might be the fulfilment of that desire. Although it’s by far one of his most accessible films, it does not come with any concessions to the integrity and style that make Dumont one of the most interesting French filmmakers working today.

Li’ll Quinquin (P’tit Quinquin), a four episode mini-series made for the French channel Arte, premiered in the Director’s Fortnight section in Cannes. At 56 Dumont proves that comedy can be an art majeur as it captured the constant attention of the viewers during its more than three hours length and won both the Aurora and the FIPRESCI awards at Tromso.

In this contagiously light comedy the director contemplates and explores once again the different sides of the human mind, somewhere between the good and the evil, beautiful and imperfect, in a fresh narrative cascade mixed with constant visual gags that bring back the best of Jacques Tati’s body language, deeply engraved in French comedies. Here we have characters that seem to come out of a comic book or cartoon. As always, with the exception of Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915, Dumont uses only amateurs or first time actors, and we seem to be touched by a particular human freshness that shapes the awkward characters.

The narrative of Li’ll Quinquin takes us to a sleepy northern French seaside town – the usual setting of Dumont’s stories – shaken by the macabre findings of human remains inside a cow found in an abandoned bunker from WW2. This event only anticipates a series of crimes involving some of the main suspects. Naturally, the case attracts the attention of the community, in particular Quinquin – a little brat with a sore lip and a hearing device – that acts as the leader of a small gang of kids on bikes looking for adventures in summer holidays. The law is enforced by captain Van der Veyden (Bernard Pruvost, an amateur actor and gardener by profession), a peculiar investigator prone to face tics, awkward gestures and shallow conversation remarks, in a sketch that echoes the sweet truculence of Michel Simon. In this intriguing case he is helped by the circumspect lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore).

By assuming the profile of a juvenile adventure summer flic mixed with a detective story, Dumont teases and amuses us while revealing wisdom, as he ties in some serious and actual subjects that affect France, such as terrorism and racism. It’s in this tragicomic investigation that Li’ll Quinquin assumes its own uniqueness and originality, without ever questioning the unity of his previous works. The lack of a clarifying ending might mean that the project may originate a new series, a welcome prospect. But if it’s just his way of ending, it would only accentuate the strangeness that is so dear to Dumont. Whatever the case may be, bravo!

Edited by: Yael Shuv