“It’s not HBO, it’s (French) TV,” begins Adam Nayman in Cinema Scope, “and it’s also paradoxically the best movie that Bruno Dumont has made since L’humanite (1999)—a good point of comparison because Li’l Quinquin is basically a remake, give or take. Rural religious community? Check. Wobbly, possibly retarded police officer? Check. A random, ritualistic slaying? Check. Meditation on mankind’s capacity for evil? Oui, but of course. Working in an explicitly comic register for the first time in his career, the usually dour Dumont delivers something very rare: an epic-length farce that sustains both its tone and laugh quotient for over three hours (take notes, Judd Apatow).”
“Is it Dumont’s best?” Michael Pattison asked in a conversation in the Notebook back in August, to which Neil Young replies that “my gut reaction is to say yes, with the obvious caveat that Quinquin benefited massively from being such a volte-face…. There are moments of humor dotted through even Dumont’s ostensibly dourest efforts (I’m thinking of the hands poking out of the doors in Outside Satan  proffering David Dewaele his grub) with the possible exception of Camille Claudel, 1915 . Not many guffaws in that one. But here he unveils a full-blown, hilarious comic sensibility which somehow organically proceeds from but casts an entirely new light on everything that’s gone before. Why didn’t it emerge before?” He has a few ideas.
Also in August, Michael Pattison wrote here in Keyframe: “Set on the northwest French coast, the 197-minute series is a murder mystery of Twin Peaks standing, seen mostly from the perspective of its eponymous cleft-lipped teen (Alane Delhaye) and bumblingly quizzical, bushy-browed, marvelously mustachioed lead detective Captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost). As intriguing as it is perplexing, Dumont’s finest effort to date is a surreal and often breathtakingly poignant work.”
“Li’l Quinquin is both a Zolaesque revelation of brutality in the French countryside and a sly laugh riot,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody. “Dumont—who seems to know every inch of the terrain and every idiosyncrasy of the residents—lays bare the crude sediment of country life: the wounds of history, ancient family grudges, xenophobia and racism, a density of unchallenged tradition.”
“The motor of the story is the discovery of a dead cow in a WWII-era bunker, which seems to have been stuffed with human remains,” explains Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “Several questions need to be answered: How did the cow get into the bunker, whose remains are inside it, how did they get there and why was that person killed?”
“Little by little, a sinister jigsaw puzzle begins to form, though Dumont takes as much evident pleasure from playing by genre conventions as he does in subverting them,” writes Variety‘s Scott Foundas. “More body parts turn up inside yet more farm animals. The town’s bucolic surface is itself revealed to be but a thin film disguising a hotbed of racism and xenophobia, maladies that extend to even the youngest residents.”
“While Dumont layers in and declares themes of good and evil, the traces of violence are treated less like the moral rot of other rural detective sagas, and more like a bloodily organic outgrowth of primitive human nature,” writes Nicolas Rapold in Film Comment.
Jonathan Romney, writing for the BFI, which has programmed Li’l Quinquin for the London Film Festival, calls it “a hoot—yet unmistakably 100% Dumont.” And Alexandra Zawia talks with Dumont for Indiewire.
Update, 10/4: “L’il Quinquin is less of a departure than it may seem,” writes Adam Nayman in a second take, this one for Reverse Shot. “Yes, it’s true that Bruno Dumont’s new production is a comedy, which does separate it to some degree from his other films; ‘droll’ is not an adjective typically applied to the guy who made Twentynine Palms. But it would also be misleading to say that L’il Quinquin… is an entirely different animal than its predecessors. It’s more like a wacky and welcome mutation of the species.”
Update, 10/5: “Dumont’s motives are less concerned about solving the crime (which may irk some viewers) and more focused on the portrayal of the humanity and depravity of the characters,” writes Gary M. Kramer for Film International. “He raises probing questions about faith, madness, and good and evil.”
Update, 10/12: For Les Inrocks, Mathieu Dejean reports that Dumont is considering a second season and that Arte hopes to make it happen.
Update, 10/27: “In a mesmerizing and totally unexpected move French filmmaker Bruno Dumont has reinvented not only himself but also the crime-genre and the format of television series,” declares Patrick Holzapfel at Twitch.
Update, 11/10: Girish Shambu: “Dumont reminds me (never more so than in this lengthy, sustained work) that cinema is an art form of the exterior: of surfaces, of the visible. In other words, cinema shows us with unequalled vividness and detail that no two surfaces are alike, no two bodies, no two faces.”
NYFF 2014 Index. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.