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Coup de Torchon

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Coup de Torchon
Theatrical poster
Directed byBertrand Tavernier
Screenplay byBertrand Tavernier
Jean Aurenche
Based onPop. 1280
by Jim Thompson
Produced byHenri Lassa
Adolphe Viezzi
StarringPhilippe Noiret
Isabelle Huppert
Jean-Pierre Marielle
CinematographyPierre-William Glenn
Edited byArmand Psenny
Music byPhilippe Sarde
Distributed byParafrance Films (France)
Quartet Films (US)
Release date
  • 4 November 1981 (1981-11-04)
Running time
128 minutes
Box office$16.5 million[1]

Coup de Torchon (also known as Clean Slate) is a 1981 French crime film directed by Bertrand Tavernier and adapted from Jim Thompson's 1964 novel Pop. 1280. The film changes the novel's setting from an American Southern town to a small town in French West Africa.[2][3] The film had 2,199,309 admissions in France and was the 16th most attended film of the year.[4] It received the Prix Méliès from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics as the best French film of 1981.

Coup de Torchon was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 55th Academy Awards


In a small town in French West Africa in 1938, Lucien Cordier is the sole policeman. Unable or unwilling to assert his authority, he is scorned by everyone. His alluring wife, Huguette, openly lives with her lover, Nono, passing him off as her brother. Cordier is attracted to the playful young bride Rose but allows her abusive husband to beat her in the street without intervention. The head of the timber company, Vanderbrouck, daily insults him in public. Adding to his woes are a pair of deceitful pimps who openly flout the law and relish in humiliating him.

It's these pimps who push him over the edge, prompting him to consult his superior, Chavasson, who advises him to take decisive action. On the train back, he meets the attractive new teacher, Anne, whom he immediately warms to. Upon his return, he confronts the two pimps alone, shooting them dead and disposing of their bodies in the river. When Chavasson discovers this, Cordier implicates him in the act. Having outsmarted his boss and eliminated his main tormentors, Cordier sets his sights on others who have made his life miserable. Rose's husband meets the same fate as the pimps, and Vanderbrouck is dumped in a privy. When Rose's husband's servant returns with his master's body, Cordier kills him as well.

Upon catching Nono spying on Anne in the shower, Cordier beats him in the street. He then steals the money Huguette had been saving to leave him and visits Rose. Huguette and Nono, suspecting he plans to flee with Rose and the money, confront them. In a struggle, Rose shoots them both in self-defense. Cordier gives her the money and urges her to flee. With only Anne left in his life, he confesses his general despair and specific crimes to her. Though she's willing to accept him, he believes he's now incapable of love. In the closing scene, he's alone under a tree, caressing a revolver.



Box office[edit]

The film had 2,199,309 admissions in France and was the 16th most attended film of the year.[4]

Critical response[edit]

It received mixed reviews from U.S. and U.K. critics. Coup de Torchon has an approval rating of 83% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 6 reviews, and an average rating of 7.5/10.[5] The New York Times praised the performances and "the meticulousness and conviction on display here" but also added that the film "seems strangely lacking in overall momentum and direction."[3] Roger Ebert called it "a cruel intellectual joke played on its characters" and said the film "left me cold, unmoved and uninvolved."[6] Time Out said "this eccentric, darkly comic look at a series of bizarre murders is stylishly well-crafted, and thoroughly entertaining" and "embellished with black wit and an elegant visual sense."[7] TV Guide called it a "stylish, twisted black comedy... with as dead-on an evocation of a torpid, seedy backwater as anyone has achieved on screen."[8]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • French Syndicate of Cinema Critics (France)
  • Academy Awards (USA)
    • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film[9]
  • César Awards (France)
    • Nominated: Best Actor – Leading Role (Philippe Noiret)
    • Nominated: Best Actor – Supporting Role (Jean-Pierre Marielle)
    • Nominated: Best Actor – Supporting Role (Eddy Mitchell)
    • Nominated: Best Actress – Leading Role (Isabelle Huppert)
    • Nominated: Best Actress – Supporting Role (Stéphane Audran)
    • Nominated: Best Director (Bertrand Tavernier)
    • Nominated: Best Editing (Armand Psenny)
    • Nominated: Best Film
    • Nominated: Best Production Design (Alexandre Trauner)
    • Nominated: Best Writing (Jean Aurenche and Bertrand Tavernier)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Coup de torchon (1981) - JPBox-Office".
  2. ^ Farber, Stephen (21 January 1990). "In the Desert, a Jim Thompson Novel Blossoms on Film". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  3. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (20 December 1982). "Clean Slate (1981) 'Coup De Torchon,' Life In A French Colony". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Coup de torchon (1981)". JPBox-Office. 4 November 1981. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  5. ^ "Coup de Torchon - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (6 April 1983). "Coup de Torchon movie review & film summary (1983) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  7. ^ "Clean Slate 1981, directed by Bertrand Tavernier | Film review". Time Out London. 29 March 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Coup De Torchon | TV Guide". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  9. ^ "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 13 October 2013.

External links[edit]