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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I adored the first half hour or so of this film. Then, sadly, the film
seemed to lose its way--mostly because the main character was
practically impossible to understand or appreciate. To put it bluntly,
his motivation and actions stopped making sense. BUT, as there are so
many interesting elements to the film, it's still worth seeing...though
it clearly misses the mark.
The film follows the actions of an ineffectual policeman in French West Africa just before the Second World War. Lucien (Philippe Noiret) does nothing as sheriff but collect a paycheck and ignore crime. He is clearly a cuckold in regard to his job and his relationships. Crooks break laws and mock him and his wife openly carries on an affair with her 'brother' right in front of him. You really feel bad for the guy, so when out of the blue he begins paying these people back, you are thrilled--even when he begins, in some cases, killing people. The murder victims really do 'have it coming' and you want to see Lucien to get away with it.
Later, however, the film gets pretty muddled. First, he ends up killing an innocent guy simply because he knew too much--and it was hard to feel sympathy for Lucien--particularly because before this you did like him a lot because he DID stand up for the black natives--though not obviously so. So, he went from a secret savior of the Africans to just another white !@@#$ and nothing more. Second, there were some allegorical religious elements that seemed incongruous. He began to see himself as like Jesus meting out retribution to evil-doers--but ended up looking more like Satan or the Angel of Death--or just a real jerk! This religious angle really just clouds the film--not enhances it. Third, I was a psychotherapist and psychology teacher and I STILL had a hard time understanding Lucien--his character, though interesting, made little sense and just confused me. With a bit of a rewrite, this could have gone from a good and thought-provoking film to a classic. Too bad--it did sure excite my interest.
The story is pure trash and that is where the film gets its charm and
class from: In a French colony in Africa in 1938, Lucien Cordier
(Philippe Noiret) is a policeman in a village which is mostly inhabited
by Africans and only a few racist, empty-headed Europeans. He is abased
by everybody and always looks away when something illegal happens. On
one day, Lucien is fed up with the humiliation and starts to take
revenge on his humblers.
The characters have as much depth as the ones in a Disney comic book, and the break in Lucien's behavior from the friendly, jerky cop to the murdering, planning ahead thinker seems to be quite odd, but not only for that, the story never bores. It is actually very witty with many hilarious situations: All the deeply macabre murder scenes and shot downs, a blind man who yells: "Get out of my sight!", or the dodgy relationship between Lucien, his wife, her lover, and Lucien's two mistresses, in addition to the documentary-style steady-cam, makes the whole scenery, admittedly unrealistic and bizarre, but very entertaining and, at the end, a bit thoughtful. Also, it's always a tremendous delight to watch the grand Philippe Noiret, who sadly passed away not a long time ago.
This film is an adaptation of an U.S. novel of Jim Tompson. All his novels are precious like that of Chandler and, almost,of the Great Dashiell HAMMET!The novel is situed in the Kansas, but the film in old french Africa just before the War II. The characters are so bad as racist without any pity for the black like for each other.To my opinion we must read whole the opus of Jim Tompson and of course Larry Beinheart: "an american hero" or "Wag the dog" with De Niro and Dustin Hoffman . In Europe the "polard in french" ( novel of investigation) is the best way to know the U.S.A.But it's my opinion, no more!
As happens on occasion with subtitled foreign films I become confused and perplexed at what appears to be the discrepancy between what the characters are doing and/or involved with and what the subtitles have them saying. Such was the case in spades with Coup de Torchon. In this instance the result was to make the characters, particularly the main one, even less accessible as far as trying to understand why they/he did what they were shown doing. I gave this movie 2 stars because of this disembodiment. *I was told some time ago that if a foreign film (or an English speaking one) is not wildly popular when first released, but has something appealing that a distributor thinks might make a few bucks then, in some cases, the bottom line rule gets applied and the subtitling job goes out for bids to companies that don't apply standards that are usually applied to movies with more popular pedigree. Such might be the case with 'Coup de Torchon'.
One of those films that's known, if at all, entirely because of its amusing
title, is something listed on the IMDb as "Zeisters" but alternately titled
"Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid". One suspects the alternate title is apt, too,
because there's probably not a lot more to that film than a fat guy going
nutzoid. "Clean Slate" could also be called, with about as little
oversimplification, "Doormat Goes Nutzoid". The first part of the film sees
Bertrand Tavernier, helped along by Pilippe Noiret's broad acting and more
co-operation than was strictly necessary from the rest of the cast and crew,
establish again and again and again that Lucien is a doormat. In a typical
scene two people who are of little account themselves will take turns
tripping him so that he sprawls in the dust, only to watch him get up and
apologise for falling over. It's like watching George McFly from "Back to
Then, in the latter and believe it or not better part of the film, Tavernier and Noiret slam on the brakes, skid 180 degrees and show us Lucien going nutzoid, killing off whoever gets or has gotten in his way, safe from suspicion because of his established persona. The film ends when it ends.
I saw a 16mm print which did little for what I suspected was nice, crisp location photography, but it was clear enough Tavernier was trying (with success) to make the remote and somewhat neglected African village look like a bare stage; which, along with the hints of pervasive colonial corruption, was necessary to allow such a piece of conceptual art as "Doormat Goes Nutzoid" to come to life. Necessary, but not sufficient.
The main character is a corrupt, weak and feckless officer of the law in a small colonial African village. After enduring insults and beatings, he slowly changes into a kind of Dirty Harry. As in "Nobody's Fool" (Paul Newman) and "As Good As It Gets" (Jack Nicholson), a corrupt man redeems himself by acts of kindness and bravery
Burt Reynolds (of all people!) once commented that it was pointless remaking classic films because of the difficulty of improving on them. Instead Hollywood would be better served by remaking movies that are either good but could be improved or that are unknown or forgotten in the first place. This French version of a Texas set novel by Jim Thompson(best known for writing the Steve McQueen thriller The Getaway) is a classic example of the second category. Set in a French African colony (it was filmed in Senegal) in the 1930's, Philipe Noiret in a terrific performance plays a passive police officer who lets everyone push him around until he discovers that a few well placed killings can get him what he wants. The plot takes a few twists and turns and ends up a satisfying little black comedy/thriller. I think some of Hollywood's middle aged action stars looking for a change of pace role might want to look into this as a possible remake. Just remember where you got the idea!
I would like to know, honestly, how many people (film lovers, that is), really like the recent remakes of "The Vanishing" or "La Femme Nikita". The trend is, in this country, toward "A Beautiful Mind" or "The Phenomenon", where the genius is the aberration and the malignancy, isn't it !! Or is it the infantile transexualism of "Tootsie" and the overwhelming and inocuous blandness of a Tom Hanks character in any movie he's blessed with his presence, a subtle glorification of "tabula rasa" innocence (stupitidy ??). Well, all these people wonder what is going on in their lives, despite the lousy scripts they signed off on - the answer is either Dianetics or Buddhism. Ain't that funny, they still remember the McCarthy stuff and defend themselves. But we know no U.S. aging star could act in a Tavernier movie without a fistfight.
written by jim thompson, originally located in Florida, adapted by Tavernier, suspected by american viewers --- does it make sense ? the Thompson novel ? Who read it ? Not me, did not know it existed, how did Tavernier find it ? His mind more open ? I know, too many question marks, but there are many excellent movies (films) made out of (below) average novels - "The Informer" or "The Shop on the Main Street" come to mind. It seems to me that the Hollywood formula for sex and violence has you by the "cojones" and has got to include a lot of music - especially in a "film noir". If it does not then the film is "too noir", what you gonna do about it ???
This film has quite a few funny events, but the film is unsatisfactory as a whole. I cannot accept the premise that killing a lot of people is really humorous. The various crude remarks about black Africans will likely be offensive to them, not amusing.
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