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France, 1999 (MIFF 2000, Written on the Skin – The Films of Claire Denis)

Director: Claire Denis

Arguably Denis' greatest film to date, Beau Travail is by any standard a magisterial piece of work: meditative, richly sensual—an ode to the beauty of male bodies and to the inscrutability of their passions. In adaptating Melville's classic Billy Budd, Denis and co-scenarist Fargeau transpose this narrative of innocence and obsession from the British Navy of the 1870s, to modern-day Africa, and a ragged group of French Legionnaires, as isolated in the desert as any sailors aboard ship. Here, the landscape is a void these men must fill—with exercise, with the routines of discipline, with acts of almost random kindness and cruelty; and Denis and her cinematographer, Agnes Godard, observe the austerity of their days with a kind of rapt attention. Told in the form of an extended flashback, it's narrated by the ex-sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant), after he has been expelled from the Legion for his mistreatment of the popular new recruit Sentain (Nenette et Boni's Gregoire Colin)—and Lavant's performance here is exceptional, culminating in one of the most extraordinary final shots of recent years, an explosive revelation (or, alternatively, a belated acknowledgement) of character; while the film's measured, hypnotic pace achieves an equivalent to the heat-blasted rhythms of life under the African sun. A masterpiece.

See also...

Intruder, the

France, 2004
Claire Denis' Golden Lion-nominated [The Intruder] distils the visual and aural economy she achieved in her much acclaimed [Beau Travail] (MIFF 00). Through an evocative, dreamlike visual code and an… More »


France, 2008
“Smoother than the finest liquor, reminds viewers how rarely movies capture the easygoing love embodied in a functional family, with all its support and tenderness.” - Variety ... Claire Denis (B… More »


France, 2008
“A bold, very carnal take on adolescent female bonding.” - Variety ... In 1942 in Tunisia, two teenage girls struggle to hold their friendship together in the face of cultural differences and eme… More »

In Conversation with Claire Denis

Philippa Hawker, senior film writer for The Age, talks with French director Claire Denis (Beau travail, MIFF 00; Trouble Every Day, MIFF 03) about her approach to filmmaking, and about her new film 3… More »


France, 1994
Director Claire Denis' (Chocolat 1988) contri­bution to the series Tons les Garcons et les Filles de Leur age brings both toughness and ten­derness to the potentially touchy scenario of three… More »

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