Mini-series P’tit Quinquin’s small-screen murder enigma
Children sing over the opening credits of Bruno Dumont’s four-part rural-mystery miniseries P’tit Quinquin. They speak Picardie (a.k.a chti), the same Northern-France language the famous 1853 lullaby is in. But “quin” (quinquin is “child”) is just one vowel-shift away from “con” (idiot, stupid, etc.) and then “cou” (ass), all repeated here often.
Indeed, the investigation begins when body parts of a headless woman are found “stuffed up the ass” of a dead cow, airlifted by police out of an abandoned Second World War bunker.
The series’ underlying concern is if carefree children—firecracker-setting, sporadically racist Quinquin (Alane Delhaye) is biking around on his first day of summer vacation—will turn into evil, wayward adults. The only hope is kids, claim two clergymen, but the policeman in charge doesn’t give a damn about them, calling them “cons.”
“We’re at the heart of evil, Carpentier,” Commander Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) tells his partner, but French philosophizing is twisted into oddness, even pseudo-farce—it’s a funhouse-mirror-reflection of the evil that men do.
Van der Weyden’s constant tics and twitches raise his thick eyebrows; he can seem closer to Clouseau than Columbo. Quinquin’s hare-lipped, a hearing-aid in his left ear. But his and Eve’s (Lucy Caron) love seems to be all that’s innocent in this Boulonnais village.
The improvisational nature of these first-time actors’ scenes makes for oddball whimsy. A funeral service takes the starch out of Catholic rites thanks to: altar boy Quinquin spitting in the thurible to stop its incense smoking; Eve’s sister warbling her own English pop song; a ski-masked man in the pews; graveside, a dance troupe twirling batons.
Yet, Dumont’s arthouse auteur flourishes—see La vie de Jésus (1997) or L’humanité (1999)—are here: the Northern France setting; coarse, disaffected, callow youth; wide shots of farm lanes, country roads, and fields; grotesque murder or sudden violence amid tranquil nature. Only this is his most vivacious, even affable work, blurring mystery and comedy—as if, some have noted, Dumont’s taking the starch out of his big screen dramas with this warm, wacky small-screen series.
There’s a bizarro, screwball piquancy to P’tit Quinquin—a grandfather tossing glasses onto the dinner table; flashes of France’s racial tensions; cops tearing around in a car or falling over; a costumed kid, dubbing himself “Ch’tiderman,” trying to cling to farmhouse walls—but what it all means is itself something of a mystery. Perhaps the anticipated season two will resolve that … or just stretch out the strangeness.