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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2005
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.
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'Coup de Torchon' is an ambiguous film. The main character, Lucien Cordier, is the equivalent of a small town sheriff in French West Africa just prior to WWII - and as he interacts with the coarse population of this outlying community, I can't tell if he's lost his mind or is just very clever. Throughout the film, he sets up his enemies for untimely ends, and orchestrates it so that the blame falls squarely on someone else, all while pretending (?) to be a simpleton, a buffoon. But what makes the film cryptic is that Bertrand Tavernier as director does not massage the audience into identifying with or denying Lucien - instead he keeps the camera rolling and lets us decide for ourselves.

'Coup de Torchon' is based on 'Pop 1280', my favorite novel of Jim Thompson's, but unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting with the movie, although I thought the adaptation was well done. Also, transplanting from Texas to Africa had very little or no effect on the overall tone, and the actors were excellent. The trouble that I had was that by the end, I thought the film definitively answered the question of Lucien's sanity, and I was unprepared for that. It may have been something I missed in the novel, but Thompson hadn't seemed up for answering that question - instead he left it to the reader.

Another factor of uncertainty is that I can never be sure, with film or novel, whether the darn thing is a comedy or a tragedy - and again, in 'Coup de Torchon', no one seems willing to commit. I've seen comedy in violent movies before, and vice versa, but the set up is usually such that the viewer is permitted to laugh because the violence is directed at someone whom we're prepped to believe deserves it. 'Torchon' isn't that easy, and although there isn't any open-endedness to its events, because of the amoral complexity some viewers may feel frustrated with the temper of the film.

This movie will not have a broad appeal, but I'd certainly recommend it to those interested in moral tangles. Lucien, as a distilled version of humanity with all its puzzling contradictions, brings into sharp relief the utter absurdity of our collective actions. Individually, he is repugnant - but when nations undertake the same behavior, we throw parades. WWII looms in the immediate future of these people, and within that context, the reproach I feel for Lucien could be interpreted as fraudulent nonsense - which is another reason I felt a bit uncomfortable during the film.

Uncompromising, 'Coup de Torchon' will quite possibly offend, especially those who are not prepared to question their beliefs. Nonetheless, it is certainly a worthwhile movie, and one that left me many things to think over.

This Criterion Edition is unrated, though it contains nudity, adult language and situations, and violence (not graphic). Extras include an interview with Bertrand Tavernier and the trailer for the film, but no commentaries.
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on August 14, 2014
a memorable, astounding, disturbing movie . . .

It's a kind of French counterpart of DELIVERANCE except that it COUP is much more philosophical and existential. A mistreated humble man, the butt of everyone's misuse, goes off the deep end and starts avenging himself like a mass (or rather serial) killer.

Excellent acting, including a memorable performance by Huppert.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This was not my favorite Jim Thompson book Pop. 1280, but Tavernier's vision is brilliant. Truly a film of nihilism, even more awry by the jazzy score and jumpy camera revealing Noiret's diminishing psychological state. The French-African colony setting was a perfect counterpoint to this translation.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
Nobody seems to have mentioned it yet, but this film can easily be read as a goof on the Second Coming of Christ. After doing not a damn thing for years to help humanity or bring justice and peace, Christ shows up one day, kills "the bad guys," and creates "his own paradise." Didn't see it? Watch again, and be prepared, if you are a believer, to be disturbed.
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