Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Coup de Torchon

Transposing the action from the American South to Senegal West Africa, Coup de Torchon, a film by Bertrand Tavenier gives a new interpretation to the Jim Thompson book Pop.1280. This violent film is at times hilarious and though I have not read this Thompson book, it contained significant themes which had carried over from his novels. The film lets you feel the heat, sweat and dust of this African country. The colors are muted pastels and according to director Tavenier, at the beginning of the day the colors were vibrant during the shoot and by the end of the day the haze of the dust and heat would dull and fade them out. In the case of Coup de Torchon, the "formula" for noir was followed precisely, even though the story took place in West Africa. You had the heat, the antihero, the cheating wife, the scrappy mistress, the villains and the betrayed locals. The conflict and intensity of racial tension was perfectly placed within the colonial context.
This film was released in 1981 to some minor criticism and controversy. Dealing with colonialism and the racism it wrought, Coup de Torchon was not apologetic, nor was redemption attempted with any sort of liberal speech making. It presented the facts of history as they were, which made for a solid and often sordid plot. It was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and was nominated for several Cesar awards (the French equivalent) and won for best film by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics and Best Foreign Film in Italy.

It starred Philipe Noiret (La Grande Buffet, The Old Gun) and Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher). Of all Jim Thompson adaptations, this one brings dignity to this gothic tale of greed, violence and prejudice.

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