Coup de torchon (or Clean Slate) is based on the Jim Thompson novel Pop. 1280. Last year I watched The Killer Inside Me also adapted from a Jim Thompson novel. I haven’t read any of Jim Thompson’s novels, but if these two films are anything to go by he favours dark psychological crime stories told from the perpetrator’s point of view.
The novel Pop. 1280 is set in Texas circa 1917, but French director Bertrand Tavernier has moved the setting to French West Africa in 1938, and has made the highly stratified and racist white society the antagonist to protagonist Lucien Cordier. Lucien Cordier is the sole policeman in a small town. He is apparently stupid, lazy and ineffective (he prides himself on never having made an arrest), a man who knows his place in society (looked down on by almost all the white people in town but superior to all the black people) and understanding the injustice of the situation but feeling powerless to openly oppose it. His pathetic attitude is underlined by his wife's apparently open affair with her live-in "brother" and by a Laurel and Hardy like scene where he gets his butt kicked.
Cordier gets his revenge by using his reputation and the "system" against itself. From childish revenge plots to murder of the town's undesirable elements - including his mistress's husband. Cordier sees himself on a self appointed crusade to clean up the trash. Finally he moves from murder to arranging situations where other people kill each other to his satisfaction. This is the ultimate manifestation of God-like powers - the situation has come full circle (as does the film).
Coup de torchon was filmed in Senegal. A climate that affects the white women into wearing very little, and the casual female nudity marks this as very definitely a French film.
Here are a couple of other opinions.
Ian's rating 3/5