Beau travail Screen 18 articles

Beau travail

1999

Beau travail Poster
  • Denis has managed the remarkable feat of making a movie in which you're never really in doubt as to what's happening despite the fact that every shred of storytelling and characterization has been systematically eliminated, leaving ninety minutes of connective tissue with nothing to connect -- impressive, I guess, but only in the most stultifying, emotionally recessive way.

  • In thinking about it afterward, “Beau Travail” seems more successful conceptually than dramatically... It’s not dramatically satisfying that Denis and Godard remain so insistently on the surface of these men and their lives. It deprives us of the understanding we want to have of movie characters. But it suits the essence of the Foreign Legion, a place where men escaping some personal or legal entanglement can, literally, leave their life behind and take on a new identity.

  • It's one of my favorite films and a clear masterpiece, so it was odd to feel somewhat let down upon revisiting it nearly a decade on... Beau travail, a breakthrough in its day, now seems almost a transitional work when placed alongside L’Intrus, one of the great experiments in probing the surface tension of narrative in recent years, a film that throws chronology and geography into the same blender in which Denis had already been pulverizing space and narrative information.

  • "I've found an idea for a novel," a Godard character once announced. "Not to write the life of a man, but only life, life itself. What there is between people, space . . . sound and colors." His words might serve as Denis's manifesto. Her transposition of Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd to a French Foreign Legion post on the Horn of Africa is a mosaic of pulverized shards. Every cut in Beau Travail is a small, gorgeously explosive shock.

  • Denis really knows how to get one image harmonizing with another (the harmony is always modern, verging on chaotic – very Ornette Coleman). In Beau travail, she manages – miraculously – to tell the tale of Melville’s Billy Budd through fugitive gestures, asides, through the mundane chores and punishing workouts of foreign legionnaires under the hard light of Djibouti.

  • The film is Denis’ first psychodrama – her version of Taxi Driver or Bad Lieutenant, although, in its formal audacity and its subject matter, it’s closer to Jean Genet’s Un chant d’amour. Genet’s homosexual prisoners escape their cells, and the surveillance of their sadistic jailer, in fantasy. Galoup, who cannot admit his fantasies, escapes the law inscribed on his body only in death. Then, he dances.

  • The desiccated, cracked landscape looks like paradise used to live there, like Earth, with its centuries-old mosaiclike striations, could use some Oil of Olay. Accordingly, the film is not unglamorous. Denis isn't afraid of arresting the eye with luxurious photography. In fact, she risks objectifying these men, mercifully because she doesn't see beauty as an empty luxury, suggesting that maybe dreaming of Africa isn't such terrible thing at all.

  • Part of what fascinates me so much is how unmistakably it qualifies as a film directed and cowritten by a woman, even though it doesn't conform to any platitudes about women filmmakers' films. For instance, I can't for the life of me think of another film by a woman that reminds me of Eisenstein. Beau travail evokes him not only in encounters between sculptural bodies and heroic music, but in its musically inflected montages and its beautifully ordered compositions devoted to various maneuvers.

  • Denis makes seeing primal and mysterious. Suddenly we are watching ourselves watch cinematographer Agnés Godard watch Denis watch men who in turn watch each other... Denis provides a coda of intensely rendered ecstatic unknowingness, capturing the power in Lavant’s elegantly off starts and stops.

  • What makes Beau Travail so special - and confounding - is that after all these clotted demonstrations of control, Galoup does find release. Early on, he tells himself there's "freedom in remorse". It seems like just another sonorous try-out for genuine feeling, but towards the end we suddenly discover a new side to Galoup. He's in a disco, 'The Rhythm of the Night' is playing and suddenly all the elements we've seen up to now - caged beast, clockwork toy, villain - blaze manically into life.

  • Denis and cinematographer Agnes Godard elevate Sentain and Galoup's relationship to sweaty, maddeningly existential levels. When the half-naked men begin to circle each other on a desolate beach, they come to resemble animals locked in a battle for survival and Beau Travail takes on the guise of experimental dance art (see the film's rhythmic workout sequence and final club scene).

  • Though the vague, inscrutable tension between Lavant and Colin is fascinating, Denis mostly relies on moods and impressions to keep the film afloat, an enormous risk that pays off strictly based on her mastery of sight and sound. Ending with the most surprising and provocative coda since A Taste Of Cherry, Beau Travail is a major achievement in new French cinema.

  • As permeable as the movie now feels, it also feels formidably Other. The glints of Djiboutian society, the dancelike workouts, the gnarled weight of Galoup's frown, the uncanny nighttime testament of the foundling, the unreadable finales betwixt life and death: there is so much in Beau travail that feels shaped by persons or forces uninvested in being readable, even as they solicit your partial perspectives, your tentative connections among shadowy and sun-blasted dots.

  • This is not a film about narrative, but about image, sound and rhythm, the way in which they create understanding beyond storytelling. Dread, desire, peace, pain, confusion and antipathy are all present in the film. Often it is hard to place exactly why such feelings engulf the viewer as a result of what they see and hear, but the feelings are disarming nevertheless.

  • Beau travail's emotional core may be difficult to decipher from its cold art-cinema veneer, but few films in recent memory have so poetically dramatized the poignancy of the male body... Perhaps the film’s central achievement as a work of adaptation is how it complicates the Manichean worldview behind Melville’s opposition of pure Billy Budd and evil Claggart.

  • At the center of this tightly wound fever dream is Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant), whose own unflappable façade begins to crack upon the arrival of a new legionnaire, whose inherent beauty and goodness marks him as an object of obsession. It's here that the film's stifling (yet eloquent) discipline begins to clash with deeply repressed desire, and Galoup sets events in motion that will that will bring about his own undoing.

  • Claire Denis deserves her own adjective. How else to describe the tone of this film? You could call it dreamlike, except its style is too rooted in realism, just as it's far too dreamy to be realistic. Then it ends on a note that's completely tonally jarring yet inexplicably perfect. Some might say the camera's searching movement is like Malick if Malick were agnostic. And some might say that'd be an improvement.

  • The use of Britten on the soundtrack cuts deeper than just its ties to Melville. Britten was a homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a crime in the UK, and his opera implies a homoerotic strain to Claggart’s attempts to destroy Budd. Denis, that great modern master of the sensual, runs with that homoeroticism, exulting in the voluptuous physicality of her often-half-naked male subjects, whether standing still or in rigorous motion.

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