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; nevertheless, it remans an engrossing and challenging work. Two West African brothers, Dah and Jocelyn, make a living buying and training birds to compete in the pit. As both siblings and outsiders, their fates are entwined: temperamentally, however, the pair could not be more different: Dah is pragmatic, a businessman, while Jocelyn is possessed of an almost monastic devotion to the creatures he trains.
Recruited by Ardennes, a restaurateur who wants to open up his own 'ring', the brothers set about selecting animals, unaware of the catastrophe that lies ahead. The mood throughout is appropriately seedy and claustrophobic, and the actual fight sequences discomfitingly graphic (though a note during the end credits insists that no animals were harmed during the making of the film). Yet for all its disturbing surface, the film is essentially a study in alienation, as Joselyn—a noble man in a debased world—gradually forfeits his passion, his manhood, and finally his race itself, when he succumbs to the erotic lure of Ardennes' wife (Solveig Dommartin), a relationship that ultimately destroys him.