“The dung flies are afraid of moo cows”
Comparisons to “Twin Peaks” are easy when it comes to Bruno Dumont’s miniseries P’tit Quinquin [Li’l Quinquin] because there’s definitely an evil running wild within his small French town (or big if it’s up to the kindly, Asperger’s-lite slaughterhouse hired-hand). Unlike David Lynch’s “Bob” who inhabits residents to take physical form and wreak havoc, however, the evil that bumbling County Sheriff Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) speaks of here is a metaphysical “answer” where an actual arrest is impossible to find. It may just be coincidence or fate; it may be one of those characters the camera lingers on with malicious accusation. In the end, though, finding a killer proves the least of Dumont’s worries as well as the least interesting aspect of his eccentrically off-kilter whodunit.
Told in four chapters, it’s the first’s discovery of a chopped up body within a cow carcass lying somewhere it would have been impossible for a cow to be that brings Van der Weyden and his Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) to town. The duo is an odd pair with the former’s facial ticks, penchant for saying “Let’s roll” instead of “Let’s go”, and awkward bluster working against the latter’s lack of self-confidence, Mario Andretti driving skills, and blind allegiance to following orders. It’s no wonder the townsfolk try to steer clear of the law when their help comes in the form of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. Van der Weyden believes he’s a hero they will miss when he goes home and those watching loved ones die only see a nuisance.
So while they roam crime scene to crime scene, farther from an answer with every body, the citizens seem hardly perturbed by the mounting mess. They shed some tears and attend a few funerals, but there’s nothing close to fear or dread found. Dumont paints them as hardened pragmatists going about their business because they must. An untimely death is nothing compared to the destitution a lack of work on the farm would cause. It’s better to hold onto gruff exteriors and tough love while the kids adventure to and fro with firecrackers in their pockets and racial slurs on their tongues. There’s probably resonating social commentary about immigration, tourism, and religious persecution involved, but as an American unversed in the French geo-political scene it’s all merely farce.
The caricatures are too broad to be anything else. If I’m supposed to believe these folks are real, Dumont has failed miserably. If, as I suspect, they’re hyperbolic vessels supplying fast quirk and laughter where heavy drama would usually be in a detective mystery such as is presented, then I can’t complain about anything besides the length. The whole’s easily one episode too long, but I was entertained by all nevertheless. Being a foreigner, though, it was difficult to enter the four chapters with any goal other than entertainment. I couldn’t really invest in a character since the cops are inept, the resident adults opaque, and the children bullies or silent accomplices. They exist to inflict psychological pain on their brethren just as the Devil dismembers them physically.
So I reveled in the absurdity of two giggling priests residing over a serious funeral mass while the titular Li’l Quinquin (Alane Delhaye) rings his bells to make everyone bow their heads in prayer to his heart’s content. I smirked when the church organist went all “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” from “The Simpsons” on the organ and watched incredulously as Aurélie Terrier (Lisa Hartmann) sang the secular song she’s been practicing for an “American Idol”-like competition. It’s a series of weirdly out-of-place, emotionally detached nonsense that I hoped would find meaning later on. Ultimately it’s discovered that the chaos is a sort of balancing act with the suffering of “degenerates” who willfully act against God. It’s as though they live in a bubble of extreme irreverent glee and absolute violence.
This means our interest lies solely in the periphery. So while I couldn’t love any character enough to root for him/her, I could sit back and enjoy watching them be little assholes. This goes for Li’l Quinquin and his cronies destroying property and enjoying hate crimes; the boy’s father (Philippe Peuvion) harshly looking down at everyone but his mentally handicapped brother Dany (Jason Cirot); Majorette Campin (Cindy Louguet) being as difficult with the law as possible; or her husband never letting his face be shown to the point of wearing a ski mask at the first victim’s funeral. We laugh at their idiocy and mean-spiritedness and wonder when everything will explode. Quinquin can’t keep going head-to-head with immigrant Mohamed (Baptiste Anquez) and get away with it, can he?
Some jokes go too far into cringe-territory like another mentally incapacitated character throwing a fit in a restaurant before one of the leads insensitively remarks how he’d never allow himself to have a child like that. Others simply drag on with no punch line other than a consistent journey of incompetence like Van der Weyden while a select few evolve perfectly such as the repetition of Aurélie’s song finding its way into a beautifully mocking parrot. The humor works tirelessly to distract from the murder count so that each failure to crack the case open can be forgotten with guffaws. For the most part I allowed myself to be swept away by the comedy, but I would have loved being thrown a bone as to the drama anyway.
Too much time is spent with Quinquin and girlfriend Eve (Lucy Caron) watching each crime scene intently for each to be window-dressing. Too much time is spent with Van der Weyden and Carpentier deciphering evidence and hypothesizing culprits for everything to be random coincidence. In the end it’s up to you and your beliefs as far as who’s at fault or if destiny has intervened. Maybe it’ll be up to your religious spirituality to reconcile what sins are worth such gruesome ends as well as what differing religions deserve to be extinguished without a lick of compassion or freedom. It could even be a chicken and egg conundrum wherein this many murders/accidents happen all the time. It’s just unfortunate so many are occurring now with witnesses in town.
There’s enough at play for me to understand why so many people absolutely love what Dumont has brought to life—at times I loved it too. I believe your personal preference as far as receiving answers will factor into how much you enjoy yourself because not much is revealed besides more mysteries to try and solve. Luckily the characters are unique if not entirely complex and thankfully those who seem like dullards that no one should respect actually don’t receive any from their superiors or those being “helped”. While tragic, I can’t even deny that each death comes with some form of comeuppance either. There’s definitely something to the idea of karmic retribution and sin being the only predatorial entity to cause concern. It’s just isn’t quite enough.
Credit: Kino Lorber, Inc