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BEAU TRAVAIL

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...

I CAN’T SLEEP

Though ostensibly based on a true story-of the 'Granny Killer' Thierry Paufin, who terrorised the outer arrondisements of Paris in the late 1980s, murdering a string of elderly women—Denis here ... More »

CHOCOLAT

Returning to Cameroon, the West African nation where she spent her childhood, a young Frenchwoman (Mireille Perrier) contemplates her youth, spent within the enclave of a colonial outpost, and the ... More »

NENETTE ET BONI

While virtually all of Denis' films have tacitly addressed the issue of family. this - her fifth narrative feature - confronts the subject explicitly. Boniface (Gregoire Colin) is a 19-year-old pizza ... More »

NO FEAR, NO DIE

One of Denis' most controversial films, this study of Parisian cock-fight handlers alienated some viewers with its unflinching (and clearly well-researched) depiction of a vicious sport ... More »

U.S GO HOME

Asked to contribute to the French TV mini-series Tous les Garcons et les Filles de Leur Age (All the Boys and Girls in Their Time)—which assigned ten European directors the task of creating ... More »

MAN NO RUN

For her second feature film, Denis departed from the meditative tone of her debut, and plunged instead into the noise and energy of a band on the road. Acclaimed Cameroonian act Les Têtes Brulées ... More »

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