The Blessed Evil of Bruno Dumont

in 14th Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca

by Laurentiu Bratan

The Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the biggest film events in Eastern Europe, with over 200 films screened in its 14th edition. One of this year’s gems is French director Bruno Dumont’s Li’l Quinquin (P’tit Quinquin). Originally conceived as a TV series, broadcast over several episodes, the work was presented at TIFF as a marathon 200 minute screening, with only a short break.

As in his previous films, most notably The Life of Jesus (1997), Humanité (199), and Flanders (2006), Dumont’s appetite for special kinds of faces is obvious. Once again he prefers to work with unknown or non-professional actors whom he can mold more easily.

The film is, of course, set in Flanders, northern France – the place where Bruno Dumont was born, and which he knows profoundly in all aspects: its special kind of isolation, its poverty, and the lack of hope and expectation for its inhabitants. This desolate, cold, rainy region of France is the opposite of sunny Provence.

Li’l Quinquin is a brilliant depiction of a small village community suddenly troubled by a mysterious crime; however, the real subject is Dumont’s method of “painting” the individual characters. It opens with a rear shot of the head of Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), who visibly wears a hearing aid. The film can be seen as an excellent study of physiognomy, recalling the work of Italian masters Fellini, Pasolini, and Ermano Olmi. We look at Quinquin’s crooked-lipped expression, the trembling head of police captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost), and the faces of Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) and Quinquin’s father (Philippe Peuvion). There is an intense attention to bodies, which extends even to the appearance of two British tourists and their crippled son in a wheelchair.

The crime itself is an incredible one, combining burlesque humor with peculiarity: parts of a human body are discovered inside the corpse of a cow. This will be followed by other crimes, all of which are apparently related. However, crime is only the pretext for Dumont to depict an irrational society which contains deeply buried mysteries. Dumont does not miss the chance to address one of his favorite themes – racism in contemporary France – as teenager Mohamed Bhiri (Baptiste Anquez) is the victim of discrimination and commits suicide.

Some clues are given as to who might be the criminal. Could it be Quinquin’s father? Or Madame Campin’s husband, always on a motorbike with his head covered by a helmet, so that we can never see his face? Uncovering the criminal’s identity turns out to be less important than pondering whether good and evil can really be separated, or if they can co-exist in perfect harmony. In any case, this is only the first season of the series – supposedly the mystery will be solved in future episodes. Or will it?

Edited by Lesley Chow