Glasgow Film Festival Review: 'CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans' is 200 Minutes of Slapstick, Strangeness and Alien Goo
The curiously titled CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans isn’t a movie. Technically, it’s a mini-series. Well, technically, it’s a mini-series that’s a sequel to another mini-series from five years ago. In that series, the eponymous lead was known as P’tit Quinquin, but his name has changed for reasons that are not explained. It doesn’t matter, really. What does matter is that the director, Bruno Dumont, is something of a legend in his native France, having won multiple awards at Cannes and been listed as one of his generation’s best, right up there with Claire Denis and François Ozon. The Guardian called him ‘France’s god of grim’, which seems especially funny given that his most recent projects were a ‘medieval heavy-metal musical’ about Joan of Arc and this, a three and a half hour dark comic romp featuring extra-terrestrial goo.
Li’l Quinquin, his 2014 mini-series, was something of a game-changer for Dumont. It played in a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival and was voted the best film of the year by Cahiers du Cinéma (which is basically the most Cahiers thing ever). The slapstick horror black comedy police procedural, populated with non-professional actors, was the most accessible the director had ever been, and audiences warmed immensely to his tale of murder, cows, and small-town hysteria. Now, he’s returned to that world and only amped up the laughs.
The CoinCoin of the title is a teenage boy (Alane Delhaye returning, like the rest of the cast, to the role he played in the first mini-series) dealing with the daily strangeness of his home town. He’s surly, easily bored, sad that his girlfriend has her own girlfriend now, and more focused on impressing the new girl in town than trying to figure out why there’s so much black goop everywhere. The mysterious gunk is being investigated by the deeply incompetent Captain Roger van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his sidekick, Rudy Carpentier (Philippe Jore), but they’re more focused on the African migrants living on the outskirts of town than the more obvious and blatantly apocalyptic problem right under their noses.
CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans loves to repeat itself. The monotony of daily life in this poor provincial town manifests through running jokes, slapstick and an utterly foolish unwillingness of everyone involved to acknowledge the madness in front of them. Carpentier’s fondness for ridiculous car stunts is derided by the Captain with a cry of, ‘It’s funny once or twice, not six times’, a moment that feels like a direct call-out of the silliness of sequels, but Dumont can afford to do it because the series, and that gag, hold up. It helps that this cast, but especially Bernard Pruvost, are sublime at old-school slapstick humour. Pruvost’s facial tics and the way he staggers across a crime scene prove endlessly entertaining.
CoinCoin has lots to say but keeps it all as background noise, the real problems of this town that its locals refuse to acknowledge. CoinCoin and his best friend have started to volunteer for The Bloc, the local right-wing political party, but neither of them seem especially invested in its ethos. The local migrants and refugees are repeatedly singled out by the police as the root of the goo problem, but once the extra-terrestrial forces begin their Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style takeover, it’s not hard to see why they integrate with the white locals instead. It’s subtle theming, to the point where you might miss it if you’re too busy with all the jokes. Dumont never fully embraces the sci-fi in the same way, day, Edgar Wright did with his mixing of comedic and speculative in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End. For Dumont, the most interesting and barmy stuff in CoinCoin is happening with his actors.
As entertaining as the farce is, and as hilarious as some of the story’s more, to put it mildly, unusual scenes are, CoinCoin can’t help but feel scattershot and short of an emotional core. In this aspect, it may be that audiences are required to watch the first series beforehand. While I, a newbie to this story, found the characters and story easy enough to keep up with without that knowledge, I felt no connection to this ensemble in terms of what this story alone presented to the audience. These characters are more spectators than people, the passive participants in Dumont’s conceptual breakdown of a world in crisis. Then again, that’s kind of the point. It’s not just that bad things happen when supposedly good people do nothing: It’s that, sometimes, nothing can be done to stop it in the first place.
CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans probably benefits from having seen the first series, but as a stand-alone experience, there is much to enjoy in this deeply funny dissection of small-town oddness and the endlessly fascinating figures who populate it. Dumont offers audiences a confounding experience, but one that gets funnier and funnier with each passing moment.
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