A dark comedy that turns darker as it unfolds, Bertrand Travier's 1981 film "Coup De Torchon" stars Phillipe Noiret as a police chief named Luicen Cordier in West Africa who is generally ignored or walked upon by nearly everyone in his life, especially his wife, who treats him quite poorly.
Based on American Jim Thompson's novel "Pop. 1280", the story is apparently transplanted from the American South. The members of the local town are presented as a corrupt group - racists, pimps, and other criminals, and yet Lucien's record of arrests remains rather suprisingly clean. The film presents Lucien as a bit of a joke and yet Noiret plays it in a way that, at least I feel as on this first viewing, makes us feel sorry for him rather than laugh along with the other characters at his failures to control the crime that takes place around him.
Yet, while the film originally seemed rather light and humourous (somewhat in the way that Jim Carrey's police character endured a similar walking-over in "Me, Myself and Irene"), but the laughs generally cease when Lucien realizes that he can get away with a much stronger version of justice than simple arrests. Shifts in character, twists, and wonderful camerawork keep the film from being repetitive.
It's certainly a dark and somewhat disturbing film that's not for everyone, but I found Noiret (who reminds me of Jean Reno)'s subtle performance very interesting to watch and the film as a whole engaging, never becoming slow in the 2 hour running time. The film was also nominated for Best Foreign Film.
VIDEO: As usual, I enjoy looking through the booklet that Criterion DVDs offer which briefly discuss the elements of the transfer. For "Coup De Torchon": "Coup De Torchon" is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Created on a high-definitin Spirit Datacine and approved by director Bertrand Tavernier, this new 16x9 enhanced digital transfer was mastered from the 35mm interpositive. Although the 1981 picture isn't of the age that most Criterion titles usually are, there are still some minor flaws that I spotted on occasion. Although the now 20 year old picture looks pleasing for its age in this Criterion edition, there are still some noticable print flaws in the form of marks and scratches, as well as the occasional graininess to the image. There certainly wasn't any major wear, though.
And the picture occasionally impressed me. Although sharpness and detail isn't quite consistent, many of the bright exterior sequences looked somewhat suprisingly well-defined, with good detail and a respectable amount of depth to the image. Colors generally fare well, as well, looking natural and, although not terribly vibrant, at least not faded or pale. This is a fine presentation of the 20 year old picture from Criterion.
SOUND: The mono soundtrack was taken from the 35mm magnetic tracks. Although certainly not remarkable in any way, the audio presentation still is very enjoyable in terms of audio quality, as it sounds very clean and clear, with no distortion or other such problems. Although I can't speak French myself, the dialogue sounded natural and although slightly thin, still easy to listen to comfortably.
MENUS:: Menus are not animated, but do a fine job putting film-themed images to use as backgrounds. This is slightly suprising, as Criterion usually adds animation to the menus, even if subtle.
Interview With Director Bertrand Tavernier This is a lengthy discussion with director Tavernier that was filmed in the Fall of 2000. Although the director does speak English, his accent did make it very slightly hard to understand what he was saying on a couple of occasions. Still, I found what the director had to say quite interesting, as he goes through the history of his involvement with the story, from finding the novel to working on the film and the elements of the movie such as the locations and look of the film, including the steadicam work done on the movie. This interview is broken up into 5 "topics" - "Novel To Film", "African Film Noir", "Color", "Violence" and "Actors". The total running time is 46 minutes and its definitely worth a look.
Also: An alternate ending with an introduction by director Tavernier, the film's US theatrical trailer and color bars.
Final Thoughts: "Coup De Torchon" is an interesting picture that, while often dark and disturbing, also manages to mix in moments of lighter comedy. It also has a very good performance from Phillipe Noiret. Criterion's DVD offers fine picture and audio quality, although the picture quality isn't completely free of some minor wear.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 83/B = (252/300 possible points)
Menus: 71/C = (142/200 possible points)
Value: 81/B = (243/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B-