Coincoin and the Extra-Humans

 

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In a sequel to P'tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont gets up to his comic tricks again.

 
Coincoin and the Extra-Humans

Bernard Pruvost and Philippe Jore

  

Since making his feature debut with La vie de Jésus in 1997, the French film maker Bruno Dumont has always been his own man regularly directing his own screenplays and it seemed apt to say that he did things his way: that meant that his films were highly personal, uncompromising, often bleak and on occasion close to the avant-garde. But then in 2014 he gave us P'tit Quinquin a work still very individual yet so different that one had to say instead that he did things his ways. That piece was a feature film lasting around 200 minutes which also existed as a four-part television mini-series, but what took one's breath away was the fact that, regardless of its ultimately obscure philosophical elements, it was on the surface a comedy. That was a genre that one never expected to associate with Dumont and now, following two feature films centred on Joan of Arc, he has done it again. Coincoin and the Extra-Humans is a sequel to P'tit Quinquin and uses many of the same players and it too is simultaneously a single cinema film and a TV series running to just over 200 minutes in total. And this time, despite touching on serious issues in passing (more under the surface than on it), the piece is even more given over to comedy.

 

As is often the case with Dumont's work, the setting is northern France, a location close to his heart and the first hour of this new work offers all the exhilaration of a filmmaker of talent loving what he is doing. Working again with that fine photographer Guillaume Deffontaines and editing the film alongside Basile Belkhiri, Dumont sets up a new narrative enthusiastically. You don't have to be familiar with P'tit Quinquin which took place in the same community a few years earlier in order to be drawn in here, but for those who did see the earlier film meeting up with the established characters once more is part of the pleasure. In particular, that means the return not just of young Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), now an adolescent who prefers to be known as Coincoin, but of the two major comic characters who represent the gendarmerie in this region, Captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his assistant, Carpentier (Philippe Jore). As before the title might suggest that the boy is the central figure and some kind of hero, but the main focus is actually on the two policemen spotlighting their inefficiency. Van der Weyden especially is an extraordinary comic creation, a man given to facial tics who is always out of his depth but who, unable to recognise his own ineptitude, brazens things out through sayings which, confused though they are, represent in the captain's mind illustrations of his intellectual insight. If he sounds to you like a distant cousin of Inspector Clouseau, you would be right.

 

In P'tit Quinquin Van der Weyden was in pursuit of a serial killer whose identity he failed to discover. The sequel follows a comparable pattern, but this time the menace comes from outer space. First, the area is subjected to frequent falls of stinking gunk of a non-human kind and then an alien invasion follows. Individuals are struck down and give birth to duplicates of themselves so that from then on each victim exists alongside his or her double. Early on a joke replicates one made famous by Buster Keaton and at the time of P'tit Quinquin some critics made comparisons with Keaton and even with Jacques Tati, but Dumont's humour is often centred on a broader, cruder slapstick than one associates with either of them. Nevertheless, Dumont's affection for cinema does play a part here and, if the Keaton echo is clearly deliberate, it is hardly by chance that the alien births remind one of Don Siegel's 1955 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Elsewhere in the film one suddenly finds a Hitchcock film brought to mind and, sure enough, a dialogue reference to that work follows immediately.

 

It could be thought that these two works by Dumont were simply parodies of the genres from which they borrow, the thriller featuring a killer on the loose and the sci-fi horror movie. In reality though the tone is more complex than that. The comic aspect is certainly to the fore (Van der Weyden and Carpentier being a comic duo have been compared to the likes of Laurel and Hardy and a stunt designed to impress in which a police car is driven on two wheels becomes a running gag here), but when an extra horror trope is added late on and a character from P'tit Quinquin returns from the dead we are nearer to pathos than to parody. Meanwhile, the paradox present at the heart of the earlier piece remains. We are meant to warm to the captain and his assistant but Van der Weyden is frequently racist (he equates black immigrants with aliens) and is put out and perturbed when it emerges that two local girls are in a lesbian relationship. Similarly, Coincoin himself instead of becoming the hero of the piece is portrayed as an example of how questionable the attitudes of the younger generation can be (we see him and a friend supporting a far-right Nationalist cause).

 

These unsettling elements play out alongside a clear sense that Dumont regards the immigrants as the most sympathetic figures in the film, just as there is no disapproval in the portrait of the lesbian couple. Furthermore, the film's unusual finale (astutely compared by one critic to the close of Fellini's ) offers an ending which is less a resolution of the crazy plot than a stylised celebration of people of all kinds and persuasions accepting each other and living in harmony. As in P'tit Quinquin, the various aspects sit uneasily together and in the case of this sequel the length of the work only serves to underline the sense that, having set up the idea of an alien invasion, Dumont doesn't know how to develop and sustain the notion. It falls into episodes of which some are decidedly better than others. At times it just feels thin, but Dumont clearly loves the fact that the existence of doubles eventually enables him to cut back and forth when during a telephone conversation Van der Weyden is seen on both ends of the line. Pruvost relishes his role and, given that the film lasts nearly three and a half hours, the time passes more quickly than you might expect. Humour is of course so much a matter of personal taste that some may like this piece more than I did and others less. The earlier film said more albeit that it did so rather confusingly, but Coincoin and the Extra-Humans has its own voice. It is at its most characteristic in Van der Weyden's line of dialogue when he concludes that what he is witnessing is no less than the Apocalypse: "The living, the dead, the gendarmerie - we've all had it".

 

Original title: Coincoin et les z'inhumains.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Bernard Pruvost, Philippe Jore, Lucy Caron, Alexia Depret, Julien Bodard, Christophe Verheecke, Nicolas Leclaire, Priscilla Benoist, Jason Circot, Marie-Josée Wlodarczack, Philippe Peuvion.

 

Dir Bruno Dumont, Pro Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Bréhat and Muriel Merlin, Screenplay Bruno Dumont, Ph Guillaume Deffontaines, Pro Des Thomas Ducos, Ed Basile Belkhiri and Bruno Dumont, Costumes Alexandra Charles.

 

ARTE/Taos Films-New Wave Films.
206 mins. France. 2018. Rel: 24 July 2020. No Cert.