Love, violence couple together in 1981’s ‘Coup de Torchon’

Hollywood Soapbox logoCoup de Torchon, a powerhouse film directed by Bertrand Tavernier, provides a showcase performance for Philippe Noiret as Lucien Cordier, a bumbling and yet vicious police official living out a pathetic existence in French West Africa. Lucien is a walking, talking oddity. He shows compassion and overt sexuality toward his mistress Rose (Isabelle Huppert), but he’s also capable of dispensing justice/revenge with an easy bullet and kick into the nearby river. Although he’s interesting company to be around, Lucien is impossible to sympathize with in any conceivable way.

The landscape of this seemingly forgotten area, where the French rule over the local population, feels exploitative and sad. Lucien, Rose and their respective spouses (equally bumbling, no one caring too much about the number of affairs in the neighborhood) seem to have no care for their surroundings. They traipse around their lives, yelling and kissing, and then kissing and yelling. If someone looks at Lucien the wrong way, he’s liable to flip out, brandish a weapon and settle all scores. The lawlessness of the area is only outpaced by the obvious human frailty.

Coup de Torchon sounds like a downer, and there is a realized sadness to the entire affair. However, Lucien is undoubtedly fascinating to watch; despite his many, many faults, the man can be funny and romantic. Watching a person never think before he acts can be hilarious, and it certainly keeps the plot moving along. There’s really no telling what will happen next in the film. The murders pop off the screen with such sudden ferocity that they almost don’t register. The flirting and groping of Lucien and Rose are so intertwined with the dreadful behavior that everything has a relaxed feel, as if the characters have no idea that they’re fairly horrible people and consequences will eventually need to be addressed.

Huppert and Noiret are exceptionally well cast. The two devils in disguise make us believe in their strange relationship; they are two peas in a rather sickening pod. I’d almost call them the French equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde, or maybe the title characters from Natural Born Killers. They seem to be attracted to the mystery and violence found in each other.

Based on Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280, the 1981 film stands as a testament to how interesting people can seem, even when conducting the most heinous of acts.

By John Soltes / Publisher /

  • Coupon de Torchon

  • 1981

  • Directed by Bertrand Tavernier

  • Written by Jean Aurenche and Tavernier; based on the book by Jim Thompson

  • Starring Philippe Noriet and Isabelle Huppert

  • Running time: 128 minutes

  • Not Rated

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at, among other publications. E-mail him at

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