Coup de Torchon

Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Year Released: 1981
Rating: 3.5

A seemingly bumbling 'sheriff' (Philippe Noiret - perfectly cast) in charge of a village in French West Africa (Senegal) is actually a vengeful, morally-challenged manipulator who abuses his position: he's quite enigmatic, one minute wiping the dirt out of a young girl's eye, the next he's allowing a white man to beat a black man in public with a board, the next shooting that very white man in private with the man's rifle (and then having sex with that man's wife). According to Tavernier (in an interview with the Criterion folks), he wanted to bring out the ambiguity (and nihilism) in Jim Thompson's source novel Pop. 1280 and is quite successful, adding to Thompson's source work a skewed view of colonialism, showing the white man's exploitation of the people of Africa and, simultaneously, disgust with the barbarism and poverty of Africa (corpses float in the water, destitute children beg, disease runs rampant). The presentation is off-kilter and given to the unpredictable and bizarre - Noiret's character more or less acts as his own defense attorney, rationalizing his own behavior even though he most likely doesn't believe (or care to believe) his explanations. Maybe we're all like that - nice in public and cruel when we know we can get away with it - and maybe Thompson and Tavernier are onto something: maybe society would be better off if we 'wiped' the slate of history clean and started from the beginning.