Much is being made of French sourpuss Bruno Dumont and his seeming conversion to comedy with this four-part TV mini-series which many French critics at the Cahiers du Cinema voted their top film of 2014.
It plays here as a movie***, all 200 minutes of it, that comes over as a sort of True Detective meets Clouseau, set in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France where Dumont has made most of his distinctively severe movies (La Vie de Jesus, Hadewich, Humanite, Flandres).
Told from the point of view of Quinquin, a petulant young farm boy with a squished face (he reminded me of the young Tommo from This Is England after a fight), it’s about a series of mystery murders involving bodies being stuffed into dead cows. A twitching inspector and his goofy sidekick investigate, allowing Dumont to unfurl his usual suspects of non-professional grotesques, from farmers to shopkeepers, chip sellers, fairground operators and clergy.
Where Dumont often focuses on the hardships, this time he revels in the eccentricities of his folk, although I have to admit such levity occasionally runs close to feeling patronising.
Although I’d hardly call it hilarious, there is something quite alluring about this rambling investigation, the delusions of grandeur of the bushy-eyebrowed Inspector, and the thumbnails (and faces) of marginalised rural life captured in this gentler version of Dumont’s universe.