Day 4 gets off to an inauspicious start as my third venture into the Ultra Movies section reaps yet another foul proposition in the form of Renaud Gauthier’s cleverly-titled Discopathe. An idea more appealing on paper than it proves in its lackluster execution, the story of a young man’s whose homicidal impulses are triggered by the sound of disco music nevertheless provides a great opportunity for Gauthier to go all out on the 1970s atmosphere and design. The film’s warm saturation, along with its pretty polished cinematography (especially for a modestly-budgeted movie), somewhat balance out the weak acting and flimsy storyline. In fact much of the film’s admittedly limited appeal comes from the lovingly-recreated extravagant costumes and hairstyles of the day, its flashing lights and multicoloured dance floors, the plastic beignets of everything electronic. Nostalgic recreations of a bygone era, however, weren’t what the crowd had turned up for, and their thirst for some quality horror was left desperately unquenched. Sure, there’s that one death-by-vinyl and a last minute lunge into bizarre territory, but in truth even those moments barely register on the entertainment scale. Disposable as they get.
…until the very final minutes, I was ready to pencil Calvary as but a slight upgrade on its director’s previous…Yet I was profoundly taken aback by how hard the ending hit me.
In what is quick becoming a pattern of my stay at NIFFF, a turgid dud is immediately followed up by a film that far surpasses my expectations. While I wouldn’t say I hated John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, I can’t claim that it left much of a lasting mark on my memory. At the time, it felt like an undercooked side course to Martin McDonagh’s quite brilliant neo-noir In Bruges with that film’s perfect tonal balance crucially missing from The Guard‘s formula. McDonagh the first (as far as this paragraph is concerned) thankfully corrects his mistake in the considerably superior Calvary, an existential black comedy about a gentle parish priest in a morally-corrupt pastoral village, an inhabitant of which has threatened to put an end to the churchman’s life by the end of the week. I shan’t expand on it to long in light of the fact that our very own contributor Ronan Doyle has already done so in marvelously eloquent fashion. I’ll gladly admit that, until the very final minutes, I was ready to pencil Calvary as but a slight upgrade on its director’s previous, its tone—to my mind—still too broad for the touching humanity it aspires to convey. Yet I was profoundly taken aback by how hard the ending hit me, how it succeeded in fusing the general atmosphere of dark cynicism with the poignant honesty of its flawed protagonist. The Zelig reference at the end is a big plus as well.
P’Tit Quinquin is undoubtedly unusual television, but it’s also Dumont’s best work in many years.
I concluded my day with the screening of the entire 200 minutes of Bruno Dumont’s Arte-produced mini-series P’Tit Quinquin. Surely no film since Eisenstein’s The General Line has betrayed its director’s fascination for the facial topography of his actors, Dumont’s camera involved in constant scrutiny of his carefully selected palette of odd visages. In an persistent effort to underline the idiocy of his film’s villagers, actors exacerbate every twitch, every dopey expression, every blank stare of their cartoonish rural characters, the frequent repetition of which makes up for most of the series’ comic value. The remaining laughs are to be found in the imbecilic ineptitude of the storyline’s two police officers, as they roam the pastures of Northern France from crime scene to crime scene, unable to come up with any valuable leads themselves. Unlike traditional procedurals, any progress in P’Tit Quinquin’s central investigation is merely coincidental, and only when it isn’t entirely discredited by a new set of developments. Followers of the director’s work will no doubt not be surprised by the lack of closure, very much a staple of Dumont’s filmmaking. Indeed, his sensibilities favour the glorifying of the « little people’s » resolute stubbornness in the face of life’s unpredictable harshness. Dumont seeks and finds—in the series’ final moments—unlikely poetry the children’s resistance to the unsentimental fatalism of the previous generations. A good half of the series is devoted to the shenanigans of a bunch of unruly kids, and especially to P’tit Quinquin and his girlfriend. While the police investigation stutters and stumbles with hilarious sterility, it gradually emerges that Dumont’s focal point is not the elucidation of a mystery but the painting of an ostracized young generation, neither heroic nor odious, but bursting at the seams with a humanity that everybody else appears devoid of. P’Tit Quinquin is undoubtedly unusual television, but it’s also Dumont’s best work in many years. Revealing a humorous side that most will have surely thought the man was incapable of, Arte have bagged true work of art, at times challenging and bizarre, but ultimately as accessible as you’ll get with this particular director.