Coup de torchon [1981]

Bertrand Tavernier tranforms Jim Thompson's pulp novel Pop. 1280 into an engrossing and unsettling meditation on moral collapse. Arguably his best thriller, the French director transposes the story from the American South of the 1910s to colonial West Africa of the 1930s, where the very first black slaves entered the New World. Philippe Noiret plays a bumbling police chief who's the butt of ridicule in the corrupt town, with an abusive wife (Isabelle Huppert) who cheats on him and laughs in his face. But Noiret reaches a point of quiet madness, slowly getting his revenge by going on a killing spree. The subdued actor is at his best here, adopting a goofy attitude that works to his benefit when no one suspects him of the diabolical murders. A great subversive film enhanced by Philippe Sarde's jazzy score and wild camera movements intended to be out of sync with the action. --Bill Desowitz

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