Last year the first film I saw at the VIFF was a French movie that was three hours long. I’m sure most of you know which one I’m talking about. This year the first movie I see at the VIFF is another three hour long French movie. This time it’s titled Li’l Quinquin and it’s a very different French film.
Quinquin is a young boy growing up on a farm in northern France where his parents for the Lebleu family. He likes playing games with his friends and being bad by razzing people with his firecrackers. He also has a crush on Eve, the girl from the neighboring farm who plays trumpet for the legion and has a sister Aurelie with singing ambitions. It’s the summer and it should be fun time for all the kids in the village.
However the village is hit with shock as one of its people was murdered. Mme Lebleu’s remains were found stuffed in the carcass of a cow found inside a war bunker located near the Lebleu farm Quinquin’s family works. On the case is Commandant van der Weyden: an incompetent officer with uncontrollable facial twitching and a suspicion for certain people like young people like Quinquin. He is assigned to look into this along with his partner Lieutanant Carpentier.
After the funeral for Mme Lebleu–which was bizarrely conducted with a happy organist, Aurelie singing her pop song and the baton team Lebleu instructed twirling at the burial– another murder happens with the remains also stuffed in the cow. This time it’s Mr. Bhiri, the African father whom Mme Lebleu had an affair with. The suspicion continues to grow and van der Weyden pursues others he feel may be linked like Mr. Lebleu and even Mme Campin, the new leader of the baton team who has been known to have an affair with Mr. Lebleu. Meanwhile Quinquin and the kids are still trying to be kids swimming in the ocean, performing during the Bastille Day parade, playing games, Aurelie competing in a local talent contest and winning and Quinquin falling in love with Eve.
Not all of it is innocent fun as two boys of African and Moroccan descent are harassed by Quinquin and his friends. One boy, Mohammed the African who was the son of Mr. Bhiri, is especially harassed. The harassment gets to him as he is interrupted by them as he’s sharing an intimate moment with Aurelie. Meanwhile van der Weyden and Carpentier are being pressed by their superior to find the killer behind all these murders. They try to find out more information like the bunker near the Lebleu farm, the connection with Mme. Campin and even the feudal situation with led to the younger Mr. Lebleu owning Dany, the mentally impaired nephew.
Then things take a turn for the worse in the town. Mohamed goes on a shooting rampage from the top of his house. The rampage ends with him committing suicide. Aurelie finds the news hard to bear. Soon she is found dead inside of a pig. Possibly also a victim of murder. Then Mme Campin is found murdered on the beach but all in one piece. This soon leads van der Weyden to pursue a final answer to who the murderer is. This leads to an ending that is unexpected and anticipated by nobody.
One of the things about this film is that it tries to blend bizarre humor in the midst of what is a grisly set of murders. There are a lot of tragic parts to it but the humor mixes itself into it. The humorous bits seem bizarre at first but later on you think that it did fit the film well and helped make it. I’m unsure what is big in terms of French comedy but it definitely worked well. Even a character like Commandant van der Weyden will remind a lot of people of Inspector Cluseau with his bumbling. One thing about van der Weyden is even with his clumsiness and his twitchy face, he does have a serious side. I think that’s what the focus of the film was: ironies and humor in what is a horrific situation in a town. The humor does fade away after each additional murder happens and as it leads to its conclusion.
The funny thing is how this story of a string of murders intertwines with the life of the little boy Quinquin. Quinquin is just a young farm boy doing what most boys his age do: play games, act tough with his peers and fall in love. He may have been questioned about the murders at first but they don’t begin to affect him. It’s only once those he knows dies within that circle that it does start to change him. Especially since one victim is his girlfriend’s sister. It becomes more obvious later on.
The crazy thing is that the ending is not the clearest. You first think it’s a murder story and we’ll get the answer to who did it at the end. However those who saw it were still left both surprised and confused. Almost as if to debate what the point of the film was. Or maybe the main purpose of the film wasn’t to be about the murders but rather about Quinquin. One thing we notice is how Quinquin only has simple curiosity in the murders or just giving Commandant van der Weyden a hard time at first that is until the victims become people he knows or had somewhat of a connection to. He didn’t have too much of a connection to Mr. and Mme. Lebleu or Mohamed’s father but he knew Mohamed and he knew Aurelie. He went from a typical boy who liked playing naughty games and just falling in love with Eve to having his childhood fun end and being the one person who can console Eve. That could be the main theme of the film rather than it being a ‘whodunit’ story.
The film features a wide variety of themes added into the story. One of the two most present is the theme of nationalism with the whole situation happening in the summer especially around Bastille Day. The theme of racism is present as France may be a country with a lot of immigrants from central and North Africa, there’s still a lot of racism and xenophobia especially in the smaller towns. The second is the theme of disabilities or physical awkwardness. Quinquin is a boy with a harelip. Commandant van der Weyden has uncontrollable facial twitching. Dany is mentally impaired and there’s even a conversation between van der Weyden and his superior in a restaurant while a British family with a mentally impaired son is trying to dine. I feel Dumont is trying to add a point here. I’m sure Dumont was trying to add in more points with bodies being found in animal carcasses or even about Aurelie’s song ‘Cause I Knew’ or even the ties of French inheritances but it’s too much to say and will require a lot of afterthought.
Overall this may be a long film by Bruno Dumont but it tells an intriguing story. Actually it’s not really a film but a four-part miniseries compiled as a big screen film. Most outside of France wouldn’t know this was originally on television. Nevertheless Dumont does a great job here by taking a dark story and mixing surprise humor in there but still keeping the story sensitive. I think he aimed for irony in this series. Bernard Pruvost was a great scene stealer as the commandant. He could have easily been seen as a ‘rip-off’ of Inspector Cluseau’ but he didn’t go over-the-top in terms of his character’s awkwardness or his klutziness. He also made his character’s facial twitching look natural as if it was uncontrollable rather than wooden. Alane Delhaye was very good as Quinquin. He was good at playing a child who was natural and not your typical sugar-coated child character. The end especially was the best part of Delhaye’s performance. Lucy Caron was also good as Eve as she was able to go from your typical carefree girl to a girl now hurt. There were additional good performances from Lisa Hartmann, Stephane Boutillier and Jason Cirot.
Li’l Quinquin is an intriguing film to watch despite it being long and despite the ending being unexpected. Actually it does fare best as the miniseries it originally was. Nevertheless regardless of the format, it will keep your attention onto what will happen next.