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L'il Quinquin

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I took note that this film appeared recently as #1 of the year on the Cahiers du Cinema list and #1 on M Leary’s list this year.  I’m guessing few others have seen it given the lack of discussion and lack of a thread…but it’s streaming in Netflix so there’s no reason not to see it!


My response to this movie is:

5 parts fascination

3 parts laughter

2 parts bafflement                 


In order to deal with the bafflement part, I would like to think more deeply on this film.  I expect that some of that thinking deeper will involve seeing a few other films by Dumont.  Which ones would be most helpful on shedding light on what Dumont is up to here?


One aspect of this film that would be fruitful to discuss on A & F relates to this comment from the 4-star review in Slant magazine :

“…[the film] effectively questions religious and moral conviction when faced with evidence of bodily or mental deformity, whether through intellectual development disorder or psychological deterioration.”

Is this true that the film is doing this?  How do we see this in the film?


I am also curious about the above assertion in relation to the fact that the film’s religious and civil authority figures do not seem to be able to uncover the full truth about anything or to solve the deepest problems they face.  What are we to make of this, especially in our context in A &F? 


How are we to view the chief inspector’s regular comments about the evil of the situation he and Carpentier are facing?  Are we supposed to laugh at this as we do at much of his behavior in general?  Or are we supposed to be hit with the irony that the summations of this goofy fellow are more true than most things said in this movie?


Curious…and becoming more curious!


Please comment, those of you who’ve seen.  Please see, those who haven’t!

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Glad you took the time to watch this, Brian. I still consider it a tremendous feat of detective genre creativity and Dumont's best work. If anyone is going to watch this on Netflix, I recommend watching it as four episodes first rather than one giant chunk.

“…[the film] effectively questions religious and moral conviction when faced with evidence of bodily or mental deformity, whether through intellectual development disorder or psychological deterioration.”

This is a good question - though I am not sure if I agree with the reviewer's stated opposition. I do not think Dumont does something as simple as opposing religion and "evidence of bodily and mental deformity." That binary is a bit too on the nose, given Dumont's complex use of religious imagery in prior films. It seems to me the reviewer is making this kind of argument: In Li'l Quinquin religion is lampooned as an answer to the evil apparent in this crime. Eventually, language also breaks down in its capacity to adduce who did the crime. Dumont's legnthy, intense focus on specific facial or psychological deformities suggests this is is answer (in a black comic format): evil just happens.

I do not agree with that line of interpretation. (Though - this line from the review is excellent: "When language breaks down, the face is all that remains.")

Dumont and his atheism run much closer to the Coen brothers - which is made far clearer in L'il Quinquin because it finally has Dumont doing something comedic. I think Dumont hews closer to the idea that:

1. This whole God thing is a giant delusion, or is most probably a delusion;

2. but it is such an essential component of the human experience and the way local cultures are arranged, that

3. a person's religious narrative is a natural, yet deformed part of our existence in the same way Quinquin's deafness or cleft lip is just part of life. We just make do, despite our deformities - and in the course of that often find an unexpected warmth, humor, camaraderie, sensuality, transcendence, in the midst of just making do. (Which, I would argue, is essentially the pulse of Coen brothers filmmaking as well - when we have deep questions about life, life tends to respond in the form of people, their odd quirks and deformities a mirror for our own).

This is, admittedly, a very humanist, positive spin on what I think Dumont is doing here - but I think it bears out in L'il Quinquin

Here is a really helpful conversation this direction.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Thanks so much, Michael and Darren!

I will take some time to read your essay, Darren.

Michael, that's a very intriguing analysis.  I am now rethinking the film as a whole through that lens.  Wow, the Coen brothers comparison makes a lot of sense...and you are to be commended for making it, as I guarantee many on this board will put this closer to the top of their Netflix queue now that such a comparison has been made!  We must use all tools at our disposal to get this special film seen. :) 

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3 hours ago, M. Leary said:

This whole God thing is a giant delusion, or is most probably a delusion

The second phrase is key, I think, because it suggests Dumont's curiosity about -- and borderline obsession with -- religion. I've always liked how Tony Kushner described himself as a "devout agnostic" -- answers are tricky but the questions are deeply, radically essential. Dumont is an especially interesting case because you can so easily imagine him being moved to tears by Rossellini and Bresson and Tarkovsky despite his skepticism. I love his best films so much because they're a realization of his rigorous and open struggle to reconcile that conflict.

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