Plot: What’s it about?
This story takes place in 1938, within a French controlled African colony where Lucien Cordier (Phillipe Noiret) is the local law enforcement. The area is heavily populated by blacks, but some whites do live there and of course, Lucien is one of them. Although he is a police officer, Lucien never enforces the laws much and usually when a crime is enacted, he simply ignores it and looks in the opposite direction. He is even mocked and laughed at all the time, even his own wife Huguette (Stephane Audran) thinks he is a real loser and little else. But soon however, Lucien begins to see the potential power he holds and as such, decides to test the waters a little. He starts to enforce the laws in powerful form, then begins to take out his inner rage against people, sometimes even innocents are killed or punished by his brand of justice. He was once a doormat to the folks that live in his village, but now he is a vengeful force to be reckoned with, even a ladies man and hero of sorts to some locals.
If you want a movie that takes some time to sort out, then Coup de Torchon is the flick you need to look into. In the video interview found on this disc, director Bertrand Tavernier says he didn’t want to make this one easy for the audience and man, he succeeded and then some on that front. So if you need to have all the blanks filled in, this isn’t your kind of film, but if you like some open ended segments or unexplained events, then Coup de Torchon is right up your alley, friends. I do think that some of the unexplained elements do offer a lot of potential for confusion, but I think that works well in this case, as some confusion seems in order for this kind of flick. I am not often left in the dark by movies, but I have to admit, this one even baffles me at times and in truth, I love that idea. Some of the characters have traits that make no sense, the humor is sometimes very unusual, and on the whole, Coup de Torchon is offbeat and highly original. It might not always make sense and it sometimes throws things for a loop, but I think it is an excellent picture and one well worth a look. And thanks to such a deluxe edition from Criterion, a rental or purchase would be money well spent.
The force behind Coup de Torchon is director Bertrand Tavernier, who also helped adapt Jim Thompson’s novel Pop. 1280 to create this screenplay. In this production, Tavernier had a lot of specific ideas in mind and on the whole, I think his vision was more than accomplished. As he discusses in the video interview on this disc, Tavernier wanted a certain pattern of colors, a specific brand of violence, and all sorts of other distinct elements and traits. This all forms a well crafted picture, but I do think the individual elements work better than the whole, although I do like the movie in the end. The parts outmatch the whole, but the patchwork is connected and Tavernier makes sure most of the piece fit together before the close. Some pieces are more obvious than others and some take a while to see, but I think it all pans out in supreme fashion here. I consider this to be an exact, but loose motion picture and one that paints a specific image, but also leaves a lot of things up to the audience. Other films directed by Tavernier include The Undeclared War, A Sunday In The Country, ‘Round Midnight, Deathwatch, and The Clockmaker of St. Paul.
Video: How does it look?
Coup de Torchon is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Given that this film was made in 1981, I am pleased with the source material condition and overall appearance of this presentation. The print used has some rough places, but not as much as expected, very clean and impressive indeed. The film’s subdued color scheme comes across well here, so don’t be alarmed by the faded hues found in this transfer. I saw no errors with the contrast either, as black levels seem accurate and detail level is very strong here. Another fine treatment from Criterion here, fans should be very pleased indeed.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc uses a mono track in the original French language, which is a basic, but adequate effort in all respects. This was a low budget feature and as such, dynamic presence doesn’t abound in this mix, which usually means the mono format is more than enough. I do think the elements seem a little thin at times, but I think is due to the source materials and not this audio transfer. The very cool musical score, sound effects, and vocals all surface in solid form, no real complaints to be made in the least. I think the thin presence might throw off some viewers, but I think this is about as good as this one’s ever going to sound. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, in case you should need them.
Supplements: What are the extras?
On this release you’ll find the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer, a very unusual alternate ending, and a video interview with director Bertrand Tavernier. This piece is no fluff interview to be sure, with a running time of around forty minutes and a wealth of knowledge revealed. He is careful not to tell too much about the mysteries within the picture, but he does provide some rough sketches about certain issues, very cool indeed. He also talks about his use of color, the violence within the film, and of course, various anecdotes about the production. A terrific piece and in the end, one that even casual fans of Tavernier or this movie will not want to miss.