I saw this as part of my Jim Thompson quest: Noir South of Heaven.
The film opens with a solar eclipse, a mythic way perhaps of foreshadowing the eclipse of humanity and values that follows. The West African setting is only proper in that aspect, like the setting of the Jim Thompson book, it’s a doomed dusty limbo blotted out of the map where, in the absence of palpable law or ethos, humans are allowed to be the lowest they can be. Elsewhere the world is perhaps striving to maintain a moral appearance, but not so in Bourkassa, no one is looking there. Thompson had a dark view of humanity, for his own reasons, and for his protagonists, his crazed sheriffs and murderous sociopaths, he seems to reserve a last word that justifies their existence.
It’s a really funny film, as a comedy it works marvels, and I like how Tavernier shifts the tone light to dark, goofy to perverse.
But what about Codier, the policeman of the small African town at the edge of the desert? Another reviewer reads in him a deranged figure of destiny that smites down people who deserve it, a vengeful Jesus placed on this earth not to save souls but to release them. But, even though his folly is obvious, the lack of retribution for his acts, the lack of a destiny to smite him, is it omission or statement? In an amoral universe that defies order, Codier is perhaps trying to maintain a perverse moral ground, or he’s only serving his own bastard self, pushing his luck to see how far it will get him. If the film was a thriller it might have not worked, but I saw an absurd comedy foremost, and the laughter of that amoral universe is also echoed in Codier himself.
When he goes on on his little soliloquis on existence, Tavernier reaches for a solemn tone that seems strange at first, but at least we can understand that this murderous buffoon is no better than anyone else around him. He’s likable because he suffers indignity with the nonchalance of a Mr. Hulot, but the next day he’ll wake up a coward killer and scumbag. This contrast and his own belief in the incorrigible of his actions makes the movie work.
Perhaps he’s so successful at being a scumbag, because the rest of the world permits it. If everyone else around him is either a moron or a scumbag, why should he strive to be any better? As a human being he’s pathetic, but as a movie character I find him fascinating to watch. The fatalism that everyone gets what he deserves and there’s no escaping the cogs of fate is the icing here.