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28 February 2017 01:21 pm

Qumra: Li'l Quinquin (P'tit Quinquin)

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Broadly, director Bruno Dumont’s body of work is provocative, at times controversial, occasionally grotesque and always hard-hitting. Eschewing traditional screenwriting methods, his scripts are adapted from stories first written as complete novels; he also manipulates standard narrative techniques, instead relying on methods that make use of atmosphere and situation as much as, if not more than, events and dialogue.

This has led to films that are brilliantly dark, brooding and seething with foreboding – Roger Ebert once wrote that Dumont ‘shoots through a lens filter called “abject Gallic misery”’, referring as much to the blandly beautiful countryside of the north of France where Dumont’s films are invariably set as to the tone of his stories. With ‘Li’l Quinquin’, however, Dumont turns this on its head, taking his traditional story elements and creating a very dark and unsettling comedy.

The murder of a farmer’s wife starts the story off, but the circumstances of her demise are as ridiculous as they are horrendous. The title character, an incorrigible, mouthy and racist youngster, is surrounded by adult figures who are not so much dysfunctional as they are non-functional, their blank stares suggesting a universal state of near-idiocy – chief among them the head of the gendarmerie, whose bumbling attempts to solve the crime take second place to his spouting platitudes about police work and stroking his own ego. Dumont’s is a universe of violence, bewilderment and life’s unpleasantness – to find comedy here is a stroke of genius.