Coup de torchon (Criterion DVD, 2001)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
In French with English subtitles
If I didn't already have another French movie in mind for the job, this unconventional black comedy/film noir would have made a pretty swanky entry for Bethany's Orbis Terrarum Film Mini-Challenge. A free adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1964 American pulp novel, Pop. 1280, Tavernier's Coup de torchon (Clean Slate) moves the tale of madness and murder out of the American south and into the blinding sunlight of 1938 French West Africa. Phillipe Noiret is outstanding as Lucien Cordier, a bumbling, corrupt police officer in the remote provincial town of Bourkassa, who's a likable enough guy despite all his flaws and married prostitute mistress (a superb Isabelle Huppert) until he decides to confront all the evil surrounding him at the point of a gun. As his malaria-like illness progresses, Tavernier and co-screenwriter Jean Aurenche take the opportunity to skewer colonial era morals and racism by permitting Cordier's exterminating angel tendencies to justify themselves in what Jean Genet has referred to as a sort of "redemption through crime." While the film is particularly tough on French colonials ("White folks aren't meant for vultures," a white character tells a black character in a work in which African corpses are routinely dumped into the river and then shot at for sport), its caustic, misanthropic vision doesn't take it any easier on the rest of us; as Cordier notes at one point, "If it's true [people] were made in God's image, I wouldn't like to get Him in a dark alley." Probably the best of the three movies I've seen made out of Jim Thompson books--although I'd love to check out After Dark, My Sweet (1990) and especially The Grifters (1991) again one of these days just to make sure. (http://www.criterion.com/)
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