Coup de torchon (Clean Slate)(1975)
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Starring: Philippe Noiret (Lucien Cordier), Isabelle Huppert (Rose), Jean-Pierre Marielle (Le Peron and his brother), Stéphane Audran (Huguette Cordier), Eddy Mitchell (Nono), Guy Marchand (Marcel Chavasson), IrPne Skobline (Anne, the teacher), Michel Beaune (Vanderbrouck), Jean Champion (Priest), Victor Garrivier (Mercaillou), Gérard Hernandez (Leonelli), Abdoulaye Diop (Fete Nat), Daniel Langlet (Paulo), François Perrot (Colonel Tramichel), Raymond Hermantier (Blind man).
Life in a French Western Africa in the 1930s. This colony, formed in 1895, was composed of Mauritania, Senegal, Mali (then French Sudan), Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Niger, Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) and Bening (then Dahomey).
Good, funny movie. Actually it's a black comedy. Lucien Cordier is the local law officer in the little town of Bourkassa, 1938. He is bufoon-like. He is lazy, laid back, takes bribes and is bullied by almost all. He is also henpecked by his wife, Huguette. His wife's lover, Nono, lives in the house of the married couple. Lucien is suspicious of the lover,, but does nothing.
Two local pimps also push the policeman around. They love to take rifle practice by shooting the black corpses flowing in the local river, victims of the epidemic of dysentery. When Lucien objects, they say that "the N word" don't have souls because they are not people. They then push him into the river, throw their bribe into the river near him and leave.
Lucien then travels to a larger city where he talks with his immediate superior and his assistant about what to do about the two pimps. They proceed to make a fool of Lucien. They brag that Lucien has to be tough like them and let the pimps receive much worse than they dish out. They laughingly send Lucien on his way.
But now suddenly everything changes. Leaving on the train his last words to the police assistant is thanks for giving him permission because now he is covered. This frightens the assistant, but Lucien refuses to expand on his comment as the train pulls away. Now his police superiors have to be somewhat worried about what Lucien is planning to do.
And now we see the real Lucien. Apparently, he has been very dissatisfied with his wife and his whole life and has been planning a change for a long while. He has been pretending to be such a mild-mannered man that he has everyone thinking he is a weakling who would never hurt anyone.
And almost as suddenly, he is confronting the pimps by the river with a gun in his hand. He forces them to sing a song and then pop-pop they are dead. He then pushes their bodies into the river. He proceeds to cover this tracks by using the bragging abilities of his police superior as regards what he would do to the pimps to throw any possible blame for the murders on his boss.
We learn further that he is in love with one of the women in the town, Rose. Apparently, our former weakling has other victims in mind. How many people is he prepared to kill in order to get his wishes for a better life? Yeah, now who's the fool in town?
Philippe Noiret is terrific as the sad-sack Lucien Cordier. He was completely convincing as the milquetoast and just as good as the determined killer.
What is interesting historically is the great amount of vicious racism in the French colony. There are many examples of this in the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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