Follow TV Tropes


Film / Coup de Torchon

Go To

Coup de torchon ("Clean up" or "wipe"), aka Clean Slate is a 1981 film from France directed by Bertrand Tavernier.

It is an adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel Pop. 1280. The setting is French West Africa (now Senegal) in 1938. Lucien Cordier (Philippe Noiret) is the only policeman in a small town. He is regarded as a joke by everyone. His wife Huguette not only insults him and belittles him, she is carrying on an affair with a younger man, Nono, who lives in their home. (She pretends that Nono is her brother, but it isn't very convincing.) Vanderbrouck, the owner of the local lumber mill, insults and demeans him in public. Mercaillou feels free to beat his lovely wife Rose (Isabelle Huppert) in the streets, because he doesn't think Lucien will do anything about it. Two local pimps literally push him around. The only people in town who don't hold Lucien in contempt are Rose, who is having an affair with him, and Anne, the newly-arrived schoolteacher.

A frustrated Lucien leaves town to visit his supervisor, Marcel (Guy Marchand). Marcel, who holds Lucien in a slightly more benevolent contempt than the villagers, tells him to assert himself. His advice is that when someone gives him trouble, he should give it back, but harder than they did to him.

Lucien takes his superior officer's advice to heart. He returns to the village and goes about getting revenge on everyone who has wronged and insulted him. By murdering them.


  • Artistic License – History: There was no solar eclipse in French West Africa in 1938.
  • Asshole Victim: Except for Vendredi the Senegalese servant, all of Lucien's victims were assholes who had it coming. The two pimps were obnoxious pricks who went out of their way to humiliate Lucien, and besides, they're pimps. Marcaillou is a brute who viciously beats his wife. Huguette cheats on Lucien right in front of him and also steals his money, and Nono is her lover and partner in crime.
  • Book Ends: In the first scene of the movie Lucien builds a fire for some local Senegalese children, as the temperature drops sharply during a solar eclipse. In the last scene, those same kids are hanging around in the same area, while Lucien watches them and points a gun at them.
  • Butt-Monkey: The townspeople regard Lucien with scorn. His wife insults him and carries on an affair in his home. The two pimps play Kneel, Push, Trip on Lucien, and one of them later shoves him into the river. Nono, the man who's having sex with Lucien's wife, also takes Lucien's dinner and eats it. Even the town priest, one of the few sympathetic characters, upbraids Lucien for being a weakling who's unwilling to enforce the law. Part of the reason that he gets away with everything is that nobody can imagine he'd have the guts to take revenge.
  • Calling Your Orgasms: A very horny Rose shucks off her dress. Wearing only a slip, she says she wants Lucien to take it off. He does, and a naked Rose grinds up against him. Apparently she got sufficient stimulation from his pants, as she soon says "I'm coming."
  • Credits Gag: The opening credits correctly state that the film is an adaptation of Jim Thompson novel Pop. 1280. The closing credits incorrectly state that the film is adapted from Jim Thompson novel Pop. 1275. Lucien orchestrates the deaths of five white people over the course of the film.
  • Domestic Abuse: Marcaillou viciously beats his wife Rose. (He also beats a random Senegalese man for refusing to sell him peanuts.)
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The two pimps don't take Lucien very seriously when he comes to them, gun drawn, and demands they sing a song. After Lucien dramatically cocks the hammer of his gun, they start singing more enthusiastically. He shoots them anyway.
  • The Dying Walk: Lucien arranges things so that Rose winds up shooting both Huguette and Nono. The only thing is, Nono doesn't die right away. He actually gets up and staggers out of the room where Rose shot him, leaving the house, and meeting Lucien waiting outside, before Nono collapses to the ground and dies.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A tracking shot follows Rose as she runs through the chaotic streets of the village, through the crowds and cars, up two flights of stairs, and into Lucien's dining room, as she finally tells him about how she shot Huguette and Nono.
  • Evil Duo: The two pimps, Le Peron and his sidekick, who take delight in humiliating Lucien. They're never seen apart.
  • He Knows Too Much: Marcaillou's servant Vendredi ("Friday") returns to his master's house bearing Marcaillou's body. Rose's panicky babbling about how she thought Lucien had killed Marcaillou, leads Lucien to kill Vendredi as well, because he overheard.
  • It Gets Easier: Lucien's first murders, the killing of the two pimps, are followed by him having panic attacks and nightmares. As the film ends, he's pointing his gun at Senegalese children, just because he's bored. And that's after he's told Rose that he's basically dead inside and doesn't care anymore.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: Everybody seems to be competing for ways to humiliate Lucien. The pimps do the Kneel, Push, Trip trick on him, leaving him flat on his back in the dust.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Marcel, Lucien's supervisor, twice tells Lucien to turn his back, and then twice kicks him in the butt. The idea is to teach Butt-Monkey Lucien too stop letting people walk all over him. The lesson works a little too well.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: In the backstory. Lucien tells Anne that his father hates him, because his mother died in childbirth.
  • Orbital Shot: The camera circles around Lucien and Anne in their last scene, when they're dancing together and Lucien confesses his crimes, and tells Anne that she shouldn't fall in love with him because he can't love anyone anymore.
  • Setting Update: Jim Thompson's novel Pop. 1280 was set in the Deep South in the early 20th century. This film changes the setting to French West Africa in 1938. Word of God said that the setting update was to capture a French setting that had the brutality and lawlessness of the Jim Crow American South.
  • Shower Scene: One scene finds Anne taking a shower, only for Nono to climb a ladder and peep at her. This has little relevance to the plot other than 1) fanservice, and 2) extra motivation for Lucien to arrange the deaths of Nono and Huguette.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: The film opens with Lucien and some children of the village watching a solar eclipse. It doesn't have much relevance to the story other than seeming to symbolize how the sleepy town will soon be disturbed.
  • Villain in a White Suit: Vanderbrouck, the obnoxious Jerkass who delights in insulting Lucien, wears a crisp white suit. This makes him stand out in tropical Africa. It also sets up a gag where Lucien saws through the wood panels of the outhouse, causing Vanderbrouck to fall through them. When they fish him out, Vanderbrouck's formerly white suit is covered in human waste.
  • Widow's Weeds: Lampshaded when Rose shows up in the standard black dress for her husband's funeral, only for the priest to say "Your little heart bleeds," followed by Rose saying that no, it doesn't.