Friday 16 December 2022

Coup de Torchon (Clean Slate) [1981]

 There’re two kinds of memorable cinematic adaptations of literary texts – those where the filmmaker imbues their vision and signature while retaining the book’s narrative details; and those where s/he radically supplants its location, context and period, and even laces it with politics specificities of its own, while retaining only its thematic essence and narrative barebones. Bertrand Tavernier’s caustic, unsettling and brilliant neo-noir Coup de Tronchon – like such other fabulous examples as Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, Godard’s Band of Outsiders, Kurosawa’s Ran, Bharadwaj’s Shakespeare Trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara and Haider), etc. – emphatically belongs to the latter category. In this fascinating rendering of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel Pop. 1280, Tavernier transplanted the tale from the American Deep South of 1910s to Senegal under French colonialism in 1938 with WW2 lurking round the corner. As may therefore be guessed, he added lashing commentaries on the horrors of colonialism, along with racism, moral rot and human corruption, into this story of violence and sociopathy. Lucian (Philippe Noiret) is a seemingly good-natured but simpleton cop in a dusty shantytown who’s cruelly humiliated by two local pimps, lampooned by his boss, scorned by his peers, pitied by the locals, and cuckolded by his sensuous wife (Stéphane Audran) who’s even kept a lover at home. However, upon being gradually pushed to the precipice, he finally snaps with stunning brutality. In parallel he starts a racy affair with a saucy, nubile widow (Isabelle Huppert) who he’d been lusting after for long. The sun-washed visuals, terrific jazz score, compelling use of single-takes and grimy atmosphere marvellously interplayed with pitch-perfect performances, tar-black humour and scalding political overtones in this work filled with macabre energy, hilarious absurdity and manic unpredictability.

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Genre: Black Comedy/Crime Comedy/Neo-Noir

Language: French

Country: France

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