Tchao Pantin (1983)

vt So Long, Dummy; vt So Long, Stooge

France / 92 minutes / color / Renn, AMLF Dir: Claude Berri Exec pr: Pierre Grunstein Scr: Claude Berri, Alain Page, Bruno Nuytten Story: Tchao Pantin (1982) by Alain Page Cine: Bruno Nuytten Cast: Coluche, Richard Anconina, Agnès Soral, Mahmoud Zemmouri, Philippe Léotard, Ben Smaïl, Albert Dray.

Years ago hardbitten Paris cop l’Inspecteur Lambert (Coluche) fell apart when his neglect and harsh treatment of his junkie son led to the youth dying of an overdose. Now Lambert is the night attendant at a failing gas station, where he spends most of his time drinking himself into forgetfulness. One night Youssef Bensoussan (Anconina), a petty drug pusher and street thief—especially of motorcycles—takes shelter at the gas station for a few minutes in hopes of dodging the attention of overinquisitive patrol cops; Lambert connives in the dodge. Thereafter Bensoussan becomes a regular visitor, and Lambert slowly emerges from his shell as the pair form a bond, Bensoussan in a sense filling in for Lambert’s dead son.

Tchao Pantin 1983 - Lambert & Lola

Lambert and Lola: strangers in the night.

Bensoussan “borrows” the covetable Honda motorbike of his drug boss Rachid (Zemmouri) and with it sufficiently impresses punk girl Lola (Soral) that a couple of nights later she has sex with him—even though his face by now bears the marks of the beating meted out to him by Rachid’s thug Mahmoud (Smaïl) because of the “borrowing”. Not long after, someone steals the cash Bensoussan has accumulated for Rachid through drug deals; try as he might, and even with a hefty contribution from Lambert, Bensoussan can’t make up the deficit, and this time Mahmoud and a sidekick kill him. For Lambert, who was beginning to come alive again for the first time since the loss of his son, it’s a second death sentence.

Lambert takes time off work to track down Lola and, through her, Mahmoud; he administers a beating to the latter and then, when Mahmoud draws a switchblade, shoots him dead. Investigating cop l’Inspecteur Bauer (Léotard), soon working out that the two deaths are related and that Lambert is behind the latter, is only too pleased that the drugs ring he’s been trying unsuccessfully for years to nail by legal means is now under vigilante attack. Encouraged by Bauer and with Lola having become an active helper, Lambert takes out Rachid. However, when Bauer tips him off to the identity of the criminal on the next upward rung of the drugs trade, Silvio (Dray), Lambert merely spits in the man’s face and departs in what’s a conscious act of suicide. But then he and Lola bed each other, and once more Lambert has a reason for living . . .

Alain Page, born Jean Emmanuel Conil, was a fairly prolific screenwriter for both movies and especially TV as well as the author of a number of novels, of which Tchao Pantin and Une si Jolie Petite Ville (1971) are probably the best known. Coluche, born Michel Gérard Joseph Colucci, was best known as a comedian and comic actor, and his work still has a major cult following in France because of its biting political satire and its readiness to push the limits of “taste”; this rare dramatic role brought Coluche a César Award for Best Actor. Anconina went one better, winning Césars as both Best Supporting Actor and Most Promising Actor; while Nuytten’s cinematography and the sound editing (by Jean Labussière and Gérard Lamps) also earned Césars. (There were seven further César shortlistings, including Best Film, Best Director and, for Soral, nominations she was unlucky not to convert into wins as Best Supporting and Most Promising Actress.)

Although an exceptional example of early French neonoir, the movie was until recently relatively unknown outside France.

On Tchao Pantin

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