Thursday 1 November 2018

Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (Bruno Dumont, 2018)

Police captain Van der Weyden is one of the more memorable characters in recent television history (OK, I must admit I don't watch much TV), and since this character - played by the untutored Bernard Pruvost - first appeared in Bruno Dumont's Li'l Quinquin, I've been itching to see more of him; that show, which ran to four episodes (and also played in cinemas as one long film), was always ripe for another series.  A sequel is now finally here in the form of Coincoin and the Extra-Humans and, happily, second time around proves no obstacle for the director and his fine cast of non-pros who, four years on, effortlessly slip back into this surreal and occasionally very troubling world.  Bruno Dumont has been no slouch between these two series, pumping out both Slack Bay and Jeannette, the latter of which, like Quinquin, enjoyed near-simultaneous big and small screen releases.

As with Li'l Quinquin, this latest endeavour consists of four episodes of around 50 minutes each.  Pretty much everyone from the first show is back for this caper - even Lisa Hartmann's Aurélie, and if you saw the first series and are wondering how this can be possible, just watch and you'll see - oh, you'll see.  Whereas Van der Weyden's bizarre investigation last time around was at least rooted in reality with its hunt for a murderer (who, predictably enough, was never revealed nor apprehended), this series jumps off the deep end from the start as a strange black magma is splatting down from the skies.  This substance proves mystifying enough to both police and civilians, but its true menace is only revealed each dusk as it releases a floating light which proceeds to invade an unfortunate, seemingly random local resident, who then spawns a doppelgänger; rinse and repeat.

In addition to the antics of Van der Weyden and his sidekick Carpentier (Philippe Jore) - who spends much of his time stunt driving their Citroën C4 police car - there is of course plenty of screen time for the title character, played by Alane Delhaye.  As you may have noticed, he now goes by the name Coincoin - presumably as he's no longer a quinquin, or small child.  While many of the returning cast members look pretty much the same as they did before, the biggest change, predictably, comes in the appearances of the child actors, who in the space of four years have gone from kids just out of primary school to teens on the cusp of adulthood.  In these intervening years, Coincoin has separated from Eve (Lucy Caron) and over the course of the new series gets romantically involved with the flighty Jenny (Alexia Depret), daughter of the regional leader of sinister political party the Bloc.  Like Coincoin, Eve has also moved on to another partner, but it's clear that these childhood sweethearts still harbour some feelings for one another.

Although Coincoin and the Extra-Humans has one foot planted in slapstick, it does take the time to touch upon some serious concerns, such as the European migrant crisis and the rise of the far right - the Bloc clearly a proxy for Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement national, much like the fictional RNP were in last year's Chez nous (when Le Pen's party were still known as the Front national).  A disconcerting development occurs when some of the Bloc's foot soldiers talk about travelling to Calais for a "bonfire"; thankfully, this appears to be little more than bravado, although the group's walk through a tunnel which plays home to some migrants makes for a tense couple of minutes.  But these darker aspects are largely kept in the background, never getting in the way of an investigation which, if you know this director, is never likely to lead to much of consequence.  Rather, Dumont is fixed on his characters and their interactions, and the forensics of police work - just as in Slack Bay, Humanity or indeed Li'l Quinquin - prove to be of no real interest to the director.  As is usual for Dumont, the landscape of his own back yard here proves to be a character in its own right, and DP Guillaume Deffontaines - in his fifth collaboration with the director - serves up some wonderfully evocative widescreen cinematography.

While the vast majority of the actors seen here were in the first series, there are a couple of additions to the cast which will arouse interest among Dumont scholars: Nicolas Leclaire, whose performance in Jeannette was a comic highlight, turns up here as Jenny's uncle, but the real shock comes in the form of an appearance by Humanity's Emmanuel Schotté who plays, er, another of Jenny's uncles (or should that be "uncles"?)  Schotté's only screen role prior to Coincoin was in Humanity, for which he won the best actor prize at Cannes; you can't help but feel that he went into exile on account of the backlash afforded to the controversial Humanity, on which Cannes' David Cronenberg-led jury bestowed two other prestigious awards.  There's something quite touching about his reappearance here after nearly 20 years away from acting, and it seems only fitting that his second (final?) role is in something directed by Dumont.

Needless to say, Coincoin and the Extra-Humans comes highly recommended, and it's amazing how it follows Li'l Quinquin so seamlessly.  It's hard to pick which of the two series is better, but that all eight episodes could play as a single, fluid work is testament to the remarkable consistency on display here.  While the cast will all, presumably, go back to doing whatever it is they normally do (Pruvost is a gardener at a centre for disabled people), a third adventure with these characters would be extremely welcome, so let's hope it eventually materialises.  With much of the dialogue presented in undiluted ch'timi, Dumont proves to be as intransigent as ever; that said, who would have thought that the director and star of the bleak, severe and austere Humanity would one day reunite for a knockabout TV comedy?

Darren Arnold

Images: 3B Productions