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The Criterion Collection presents
Coup de Torchon (1981)

Rose: You saw everything?
Lucien: Let's say I heard everything.
Rose: And you did nothing?
Lucien: Why should I have done something?
Rose: Why...to stop me.
Lucien: It wasn't up to me to stop you. It was up to you, to Huguette, Nono, Marcaillou. If I put temptation in front of you, it's not a reason to use it. I just help folks reveal their true character. It's a dirty job, Rose. And I deserve all the dirty pleasure I get out of it.
Rose: You're not ashamed?
Lucien: Part of my job is enjoying other folks' misery.

- Isabelle Huppert, Philippe Noiret

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer  
Published: August 16, 2001

Stars: Philippe Noiret, Isabelle Huppert
Other Stars: Jean-Pierre Marielle, St»phane Audran, Eddy Mitchell, Guy Marchand, Irene Skobline
Director: Bertrand Tavernier

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence and nudity)
Run Time: 02h:08m:32s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 037429149829
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+A- A-

DVD Review

One of the great things about The Criterion Collection is that they usually have very good taste when they choose which films to release. This means that every movie they release is like a recommendation to people who like good films in general and, more often than not, one can pick up a title from the collection at random and find it enjoyable. This is true for me and Coup de Torchon. I knew about the film when Criterion released it, but wasn't interested. Still, when it needed to be reviewed I decided to give it a try, and I'm glad I did. Dark yet hilarious, Coup de Torchon is an achievement: a movie that looks at the darker nature of man while seeming to stay lighthearted.

Meet Lucien Cordier (Philippe Noiret): police chief of Senegal in the 1930s, and pathetic creature. His wife, Huguette (Stéphane Audran) has no respect for him. Under the guise of being her brother, her lover, Nono (Eddy Mitchell), lives with her and Lucien. The local people ignore him, knowing he's never made an arrest in his life. The commanders of the army regiment stationed there make fun of him and his beliefs. And all the while, two pimps humiliate him endlessly, feeling they have the right to do so because they pay him off. Lucien is such a meek character that he eventually realizes he can kill people without ever being suspected of the crime. One dastardly deed leads to another, and Lucien is slowly stripped of his morality. His actions also lower the moral barriers for his mistress, Rose (Isabelle Huppert), his wife, and her lover.

Coup de Torchon is labeled as film noir, but rather it is anti-noir. Director Tavernier subverts all the conventions of the genre; instead of a deep, dark color palette, all the colors are subdued, with soft blues and pinks dominating. There's no real sense of suspense or dread, the film unravels almost lackadaisically. This is due to Tavernier's intensive use of steadicam and the humor that pervades almost every scene. Tavernier said that he wanted the audience to feel like they weren't on solid ground while watching, so he used the steadicam to keep the camera always moving, questing, and almost like a participant in the proceedings. The result is that we seem to come upon events, rather than having the events staged for a specific storytelling purpose. The movie unfolds as if the events just happen, and are not being orchestrated by the director.

The other element here is humor. This is by far the funniest film noir I've ever seen. While similar films may inject humor just to give the audience a release, the humor here comes hard and fast, and in the end, it shames the viewer. Obviously aware of the voyeuristic nature of watching movies, Tavernier shows us morally bankrupt characters doing despicable things, but makes the dialogue so funny that we have to laugh. By the end, the audience realizes that they, too, are implicated in the acts, because they're laughing at what the people on screen are doing, much in the same way that Lucien says he enjoys other folks' miseries. By putting in so much humor, the film disarms the audience in a way that a more serious noir film cannot. The message is delivered with more subtlety than is usual for the genre, giving it several layers in which someone can enjoy it.

The movie wouldn't be as good as it is without the wonderful actors who populate it. All of the leads are perfectly cast. Philippe Noiret gives the most accomplished performance, deftly switching from malevolence to feigned innocence and keeping up the humor. We believe and sympathize with the character in a large part because of his performance. Isabelle Huppert also does a good job of playing the innocent while really being Lucien's seducer in the character of Rose. In one scene, Lucien wants to have sex with Rose, but she doesn't feel like it. Finally, Lucien convinces her, and she suddenly becomes so enthusiastic that we can only assume her initial reluctance was just playing hard to get. Stéphane Audran and Eddy Mitchell have less to do as Huguette and Nono; they mostly seem to be around to make Lucien's life hard. Still, the actors give so much to their performances that we forget how one-dimensional they actually are.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion calls this transfer "glorious," and while I wouldn't go that far, it's still very good. For the most part, the transfer accurately reproduces the subdued colors that Tavernier preferred. Night scenes and other darker scenes come across with a good level of detail. The opening scene had quite a few scratches (at least when compared to the rest of the picture), and certain scenes were exceedingly grainy, but I'm not sure if it was intended to be that way. Overall a pretty good transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: For a mono track, this sounds really good. The soundfield sounds expansive and open, without hissing or other distracting white noise. Furthermore, the dialogue doesn't sound dated in the least. This track shows that with the right elements, even a mono track can sound great.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert booklet with essay by Michael Dare
Extras Review: There's a couple of interesting extras. First is the alternate ending, which is actually a video interview with Bertrand Tavernier talking about the alternate ending, and we see clips of it as he talks about it—it is one weird alternate ending. Next we have a video interview with Tavernier that's over 30 minutes, and he talks about everything from adapting the book, to the US poster, to scenes people found particularly disturbing, and more. A very interesting interview punctuated with clips from the film in whichTavernier references a specific scene. We get a horrid US trailer that practically gives away the entire film, and an entertaining essay by Michael Dare. All in all, a pretty good set of extras from Criterion.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Unnerving yet hilarious, Coup de Torchon twists the conventions of the film noir genre, and turns out to be even more effective than those films that stick to the rules.


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