Bruno Dumont's latest is a typically quirky and compelling crime dramedy
A slow-moving murder mystery which rejects resolution and sports a runtime in excess of three-hours hardly sounds like a must-see. Yet P'tit Quinquin is rich with casually relayed social observation and parody, presenting its odd behaviour, incompetent police-work and murderous, hate-fuelled chaos without fanfare.
Writer-director Bruno Dumont follows the spare and devastating Camille Claudel 1915 with something much lighter, but that's just as crammed with character. Originally shown on French television as a four-part mini-series, it's set on the outskirts of Boulogne and offers a complex portrait of rural life wrapped in the dressing of an absurdist crime flick, with body parts found inside the carcasses of cows.
It features youthful rebellion, routine racism, hostility toward authority, and secret lives. The titular, pocket-sized troublemaker (Alane Delhaye, whose squashed nose and inquisitiveness make him a compelling little lead) commands a gang of aspiring hoodlums – their rebellious antics offset by Quinquin's sweet and sincere relationship with peer Eve (Lucy Caron). Eve's older sister Aurélie (Lisa Hartmann) dreams of becoming a pop star; Hartmann's rendition of the self-penned, slightly repetitious 'Cause I Knew' becomes the film's surprisingly affecting anthem, communicating as it does a listless yearning for escape.
Even in a competitive cinematic and televisual field, our investigating officers Captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) are amongst the worst police officers ever seen on screen – they're not bad cops as such, just utterly crap ones. Pruvost's insanely expressive face wouldn't be out of place in the silent era, or indeed a cartoon, and his constant overt balking at goings-on (his eyes ever-threatening to pop out of his head) adds considerable colour to proceedings.
P'tit Quinquin plays brilliantly with the conventions of small screen crime dramas and big screen thrillers: the sensational deaths, the suspicious locals, the tangled romantic relationships. Best of all, it gently but pretty mercilessly lampoons the tired tropes associated with maverick police officers – in the duo's erratic driving, snappy sign-off ('Let's roll'), dramatic dashes, mysterious nicknames (Van der Weyden is known as 'The Fog'), antagonistic partnership and philosophical musings. Except in this case it all adds up to nothing and, for all the cop show box-ticking, it's increasingly obvious that these two have no investigative skills, no suspects and, worst of all, no clue.
Selected release from Fri 10 Jul.