Coup de Torchon

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Coup de Torchon
Coup de torchon.jpg
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-Wiliam Glenn
Edited byArmand Psenny
Music byPhilippe Sarde
Distributed byParafrance Films (France)
Biograph Int'l (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.


In a little town in French West Africa in 1938, Lucien Cordier is the only policeman. Unable or unwilling to impose his authority, he is treated with scorn by everybody. His sexy wife Huguette has brought a lover, Nono, to live openly with them, claiming he is her brother. Cordier fancies the mischievous young bride Rose, but lets her brutal husband beat her in the street unchallenged. The head of the timber company, Vanderbrouck, daily insults him for all to see. And the bane of his life is a pair of slimy pimps, who flout the law and enjoy humiliating him.

It is the pimps that take him to the brink, so he gets on a train to consult his superior Chavasson, who tells him to act forcefully. On the train home is the attractive new teacher in town, Anne, to whom he warms immediately. Once back, he catches the two pimps alone and, after shooting both dead, throws the corpses in the river. When Chavasson learns of this, he rushes down to question Cordier, who says it was in effect Chavasson who killed them. Having outwitted his boss and removed his prime tormentors, Cordier starts on the others who have made his life a misery. Vanderbrouck is dropped in a privy and Rose's husband, like the pimps, is shot dead. When his servant brings his master's body back to the house, Cordier kills the servant as well.

Catching Nono peeping at Anne in the shower, he beats him up in the street. Then he steals the money which his wife had been saving up in order to leave him and goes off to see Rose. Huguette and Nono, reckoning that he is going to abscond with Rose and the money, storm round to Rose's and in self-defence Rose shoots both dead. Cordier gives her the money and tells her to get away fast. All he has left in life is Anne, to whom he confesses his general malaise and specific crimes. She is ready to accept him but he says he is now incapable of love. In the closing shot, he is alone under a tree caressing a revolver.



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 and 10 César nominations but did not win any.

It received mixed reviews from U.S. and U.K. critics. 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."[5] 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."[6] 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."[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • French Syndicate of Cinema Critics (France)
  • Academy Awards (USA)
    • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film[8]
  • 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. ^ Ebert, Roger (6 April 1983). "Coup de Torchon movie review & film summary (1983) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Clean Slate 1981, directed by Bertrand Tavernier | Film review". Time Out London. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  7. ^ "Coup De Torchon | TV Guide". Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  8. ^ "The 55th Academy Awards (1983) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 13 October 2013.

External links[edit]