An inspired rendering of Jim Thompson's pulp novel Pop. 1280, Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de torchon (Clean Slate) deftly transplants the story of an inept police chief- turned-heartless killer and his scrappy mistress from ... more »the American South to French West Africa. Featuring pitch-perfect performances by Philippe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert, this striking neo-noir straddles the line between violence and lyricism with dark humor and visual elegance, perfectly captured by Criterion's glorious new anamorphic transfer.« less
"When they are on location, film directors usually tend to forget the actors in order to become for a while only still photographers. If James Bond is in Paris, one can be sure to enjoy a free guided tour of the city including the Eiffel Tower, Les Champs-Elysées and l'Arc de Triomphe. So, when one reads that the story of french director Bertrand Tavernier's COUP DE TORCHON is happening in the French West Africa of 1938, wild images begin to fly through the movie lover's anxious mind : elephants, lions, snakes, Tarzan, glorious sunsets and other african clichés suddenly make their appearance in front of his very eyes. But amateurs of touristic trips will be very disappointed with Tavernier's use of african landscapes. The director is even playing with us in the scene involving the french rock singer Eddy NONO Mitchell standing on his bed because something is moving under his bed. We are all waiting for a snake, a scorpion or a colourful spider to burst out while the dangerous animal is finally described as a vulgar night butterfly that the director doesn't even judge necessary to show to the audience. Bertrand Tavernier is not following the usual codes of the genre and is saying it. In fact, Bertrand Tavernier doesn't follow any codes in COUP DE TORCHON. The main character, Philippe LUCIEN CORDIER Noiret, is presented as a weak corrupted policeman despised by the local bad boys. Once he has earned a bit of our sympathy, he turns into a machiavelic no-law madman driven by revenge. The last scene of COUP DE TORCHON deserves to stay in movie history : Philippe Noiret, by the sole power of his eyes and gestures, makes us understand that he has become completely mad. So why Africa ? For its strange atmosphere, for its heat, for its colours. Bertrand Tavernier explains it very clearly during the interview you will find as extra-feature with this Criterion release. An alternate ending, not very convincing, is also presented as well as the american trailer of this 1981 movie which, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. A DVD for your library."
albemuth | 04/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best film adaptation of Jim Thompson to date, and a marvellous film beside that fact. Tavernier knows the book throughout but doesn't bow to it; he builds his own movie out of the story filling it with character and nuance. He doesn't cop out like Peckinpah, or try to be too clever - he makes a classic film that works, not because he builds on convention, but because he makes it all his own. The actors, especially Noiret, appear to be thoroughly enjoying the filming and provide us with sly performances that don't knock you over only because they are too subtle for that. Truly a wonderful film, startling in its bursts of violence and in its understated black humor. Pay attention and the rewards will be many."
A rare blending of genres that nets profound results
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 01/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Very unusual movie. I was unprepared for such a strange story. Only after the movie was over did I glimpse Jim Thompson's name in the credits and it dawned on me so that is what I have been watching. Thompson's name is synonymous with hard-boiled noir and if you like that genre then this is for you though the setting will throw even the most ardent noir fan for a bit of a loop. Noir in Africa? Phillips Noiret plays the sherrif of a West African town in the thrall of the worst kind of colonialism. Unforunately he's not much of a law and order man. In fact he is completely ineffective at administering any kind of justice whatsoever. Blacks are brutally mistreated right in front of him and he does nothing. Hes the sherrif only in name and at home he is abused by his wife played by Stephane Audran who does not hide the fact she is sleeping with her live-in "brother". The sherriff takes all kinds of abuse til one day he reaches his breaking point. He decides he's had enough and so he begins administering his own brand of "justice". In a western movie or in a gritty American noir this kind of scenario would seem commonplace but not in the middle of sunny Africa. Noirs aren't supposed to be exposed to sunlight, are they? The novel was set in the American South but Tavernier decided he would transplant the story in African soil. Its a film that is hard to fathom. I believe it takes at least one viewing to get used to the idea of an African Noir and then another to see just what Tavernier is up to. So I would highly recommend anyone see the film twice before making up their mind about it. One thing is undoubtedly certain and that is the acting. The performances by Noiret, Audran, and Isabelle Huppert(one of her most stunning vacant faced roles) are perfect and the most fascinating aspect of the film is watchng each unwind. Even those who don't normally have a taste for noir will find this very dark comedy quite compelling. On first viewing I felt there was something missing like at least one strong black character but then I realized on second viewing that that is part of the power of this comedy. These characters are so selfish it matters very little to them where they are. And so the abscence of black characters and the abscence of any interaction between whites and blacks except on the most superficial and degrading terms underlines the utter selfishness of the whites. The blacks going about their business largely ignored by the whites offer a subtle comparison. The blacks live humane lives. The whites are only capable of committing crimes against each other. If you are part of the white community in such circumstances you become corrupt if not for what you yourself do for what you refuse to see as the underlying injustice of the circumstance you see and participate in everyday. The circumstance is a timebomb. Noiret as the sherrif is the one who goes off. He acts out against white hate and anger and bigotry only to become infected himself by those very properties. So at first I was unsure but ultimately I marveled at what Tavernier did with this noir material. He gave the material the very dimension it lacked, a social dimension. By placing this noir in a strikingly new context the typical noir theme (being the darkness of human nature) is given a more specific context and scope (the darkness of colonial mans nature). Tavernier brings new life and significance to the commonplaces of Thompsons fiction and more importantly he brings a new approach and new insight to the colonial predicament."
Strangely beautiful cinema
Ian Muldoon | Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia | 10/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A strangely beautiful film which works its magic on the viewer from the opening credits of first a black bird, then a sole black African child filling the screen. I was especially taken by the cinematography itself and the use of colour. The mis en scene is almost always a dun or sand or pale brown pastel colour but pierced by small brilliant colours found in such things as a cummerbund, or pocket kerchief, or the singlet of the protagonist or his odd red sock, a green bottle of absinthe in an outside bar, a green light shade at night, or a crimson hat band on soldiers. Added to this is the startlingly effective use of music , a collage of sounds which modify the images rather than compound or complement them providing a tone of tragi-comedy, a kind of comedy noir. There is also a memorable nightmare sequence which the protagonist experiences. As for themes - perhaps that of the scandalous Colonial in another's country, the stranger in a strange land, the decline of the West- or an ageing Colonial Police Chief searching for the meaning of his life and exacting punishment on those who deserve it, on those that he is able to. The closing moments are quite memorable. Isabelle Huppert reminds one of her rich chameleon talents and is quite brilliant. A marvellous cinematic experience."
Some people are alive simply because its illegal to kill the
Raegan Butcher | Rain City, USA | 12/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an interesting adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel, POP 1280.
The book took place in the American southwest and in the film it is French Colonial Africa circa 1938 which makes for a very interesting background to the story of the slow moral descent of a basically decent and put-upon small town Constable who one day decides to start killing the people who annoy him; he quickly discovers that since he is the Law in those there parts, he can get away with just about anything!
This is mordantly funny and sort of alarming at the same time.
I've always admired the acting of Philippe Noiret and here he proves to be his usual excellent self; even after he's SERIOUSLY crossed the line, morally speaking, he still seems likable, even when firing off incredibly misanthropic and nihillistic rants about evil and human nature.
This film takes the standard tropes of a revenge/vigilante melodrama and turns it into a black comic parable about the corruptability of the human soul. It moves a bit slow at times and i could've done with much less of Noiret's unfaithful wife and lug of a boyfriend, but they get what they deserve, so i won't complain too much; i just wish it had happened sooner and a bit faster."