Coup De Torchon (3 stars)

Coup De Torchon

(15) 123min (Optimum DVD retail)
Adapted from a Jim Thompson novel by Bertrand Tavernier, this loose adaptation shows local police officer Lucien Cordier (Philippe Noiret) in an African colony in 1938 inefficiently doing his job while being treated with contempt by all around him. Egged on by mischievous lover Rose (Isabelle Huppert), Cordier gets a little blood on his hands and doesn’t quite know when to stop.

Tavernier’s strengths are usually character and atmosphere, and, working with his regular leading man Noiret, the film’s at its best when giving us a sense of a man exhausted physically and morally by the corruption and heat of a colonial town. Not everybody liked the film when it came out in 1981 – France’s top critic Serge Daney didn’t rate it, and nor did the US’ Pauline Kael – but, like much of Tavernier’s work (notably The Watchmaker of St-Paul and These Foolish Things) it does well what French cinema is often damned for: it’s a fine character study bringing out the specifics of environment. Extras include Bertrand Tavernier interview.