Amid the azure waters and sunbaked desert landscapes of Djibouti, a French Foreign Legion sergeant (Denis Lavant) sows the seeds of his own ruin as his obsession with a striking young recruit (Gregoire Colin) plays out to the thunderous, operatic strains of Benjamin Britten.
Quintessential Cinematography: Writing in Movement
- Beau Travail review by CP Customer
The film evokes France's colonial past (it is filmed in Djibouti) and it is a sum total of Claire Denis's thoughts on isolation, exile and post-colonialism. It questions received ideas about collective identity, be it national, colonial or patriarchal, questions that are worked through in the elite military force of the French foreign legion represented in the film. Beau Travail focuses on image rather than dialogue, but the music is never just a background: it helps compose a rich and sensual cinematic world. There is also the issue of political engagement in its referencing of one of its main sources: Jean-Luc Godard's Le Petit soldat, 1960. The association of Beau Travail with Le Petit soldat is made clear through Michel Subor's presence as the commanding officer Forrestier, Thirty years before Beau Travail, Subor played a French deserter also called Forrestier in Godard's film which was an evocation of the effects of the Algerian war. Denis's stylised approach to the image should not be confused with a glorification of colonialism but rather an investigation of the myth of the legion: while she reveals its seductions, she simultaneously uncovers the systematic disavowal of identity as difference and the denial of its own obsolescence which are necessary for its continued existence.
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This film puts Claire Denis in the pantheon of all-time great French fim directors.
- Beau Travail review by ER
This is one of my favourite French films. An early one by director Clare Denis (WHITE MISCHIEF / HIGH LIFE / 35 SHOTS OF RUM) this one stars Denis Levant (HOLY MOTORS / LES AMANTS DU PONT NEUF), GREGOIRE COLIN (35 SHOTS OF RUM / BASTARDS) and MICHEL SUBOR (WHITE MISCHIEF) as foreign legionnaires. A reimagining of Herman Melville's Billy Budd, this sees the Sgt get jealous of a newcomer with whom the commandant takes a shine to. So, jealous sgt begins to undermine the newcomers success. Set in Djibouti, this is a slow burner of stagger poise and beauty. It's also an allegory for ignoring what's on other people's plates when you're own dinner is getting cold. The wonderful scenes full of soldiers on exercise give this an otherworldly hypnotic feel, so when the sgt explodes into a crazy freestyle dance to Corona's Rhythm of the Night at the end, it's a brilliant scene of expression, instead of rage. This physical inarticulate man demonstrates his turmoil in the form of an erractic dance that's physically at odds with his regimented exercises and discipline. It's a stunning movie, and one that I've seen many times.