Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It denounces anything that is in line with your expectations and still has the ability to satisfy like no other. P’tit Quinquin disguises itself as a proper narrative, but simultaneously bravely fights its medium. Well, I say ‘fights’, but rather: it attacks, because narrative hardly seems to fight back.
P’tit Quinquin is a miniseries, which is another way of saying that it is a film that will test your patience and butt muscles. The miniseries lasts 206 minutes, and, honestly, nothing really happens.
Its story revolves around a small French coastal town, where small bits of human corpses are found in dead cows. Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) are the detectives that are put on the case, and the two do an extraordinary job of failing horribly. Van der Weyden, with a tic that is noticeable every second of his appearances in the movie, strolls around the town, briefly questioning its mostly rather strange inhabitants, often in a manner for which Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks was most likely the inspiration. Carpentier, his humble sidekick, follows him around while voicing pseudo-philosophical claims about the nature of evil, often borrowed from the French writer Zola (although I could never finish Nana and must trust Carpentier on this). Furthermore, Carpentier has a passion for driving their car rather recklessly, and his dream is to get it on two wheels.
Apart from these two detectives, both quite unfit for the job they’re doing, one more character takes a large role in this grand anti-narrative: little Quinquin himself. Quinquin is a young farmer’s boy, who, accompanied by his two friends and his self-proclaimed amour, follows the strange events in town and faces the town’s mysteries and ethnic minorities.
P’tit Quinquin is a challenge to watch, not only because of its length and lack of significant events, but also because some themes that sometimes reach the story’s surface are quite painful. The film gives its audience hints of necrophilia and bestiality, and explicitly shows heavy racism. But P’tit Quinquin shows these controversial themes so easily and renders them so empty, that the entire film seems indifferent about the atrocities it brings to light. P’tit Quinquin takes on a lumpen attitude, and it finally dwindles into an atmosphere of frightening nihilism, settled onto a layer of simple comedy of everyday life.
Yes, it’s all pretty awful, but simultaneously P’tit Quinquin is very entertaining, very humorous and very refreshing. In the end, its nihilism transforms into comedic scepticism, and from the start the miniseries warns its viewers through absurdity and ridiculousness to not rely on anything the film claims. P’tit Quinquin holds no beliefs and no morals, it revolves around nothing. so any horrifying themes it exhibits present nothing in themselves. The absence of meaning is actually what makes the film hilarious. The balance between disgusting and laughable content is perfect, and the 206 minutes are all entertaining and enthralling.
The absurdity of P’tit Quinquin is only increased by the unnatural acting of the entire cast. Bruno Dumont is known to recruit inexperienced actors for his films, and in P’tit Quinquin this becomes as obvious as can be as some actors stare dispassionately to the horizon when reading their lines. As Dumont claims in an interview with The Guardian: “[…] I like putting very ordinary people in the spotlight. Walk down any street, you’ll see plenty of people who are pretty singular looking”. The cast, indeed, often resembles ordinary people, and most of us, though in shame, even laugh at the guise of some of these actors. However, Dumont’s style demands the use of non-professionals; it fits perfectly.
P’tit Quinquin is a pile of tasty, absurd and hilarious scenes and its unconventional presentation is as refreshing as it is weird, and it is very weird. It’s one of the best ways to spend your spare three and a half hours.
366 Weird Movies: “Bruno Dumont’s sprawling (206 minute) longform Gallic mystery is quirky and ominous in about equal measure, with an ambiguous non-conclusion that adds to the weirdness while also making the entire enterprise feel strangely incomplete”.
Roger Ebert: “Pruvost looks like Albert Einstein and has a facial tic that causes his face to move involuntarily in very noticable ways, meaning he delivers something like four reactions for every stimuli and sometimes more”.
The Hollywood Reporter: “[…] by contrasting what the investigators are trying to uncover with the youthful adventures of the children, Dumont seems to suggest that the world of adults, despite appearances, is so rotten that it can only be stomached and perhaps even saved by two things: laughter of the tragicomic kind and a child-like innocence that somehow needs to be maintained into adulthood”.