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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday October 3, 2019 


Galoup (Denis Lavant), now a middle-aged loner living in Marseilles, recalls his life as a sergeant in the Foreign Legion, leading troops in the Gulf of Djibouti. There he developed a jealous obsession with a young recruit, Sentain (Gregoire Colin) who was also an object of fascination for their commanding officer, Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor). Through the troops' day to day duties and training exercises, Galoup's obsession mounts until it threatens to destroy both Sentain and himself.

When you close your eyes and think of Claire Denis' Beau Travail, what images and sounds come to mind? The scorching, golden-brown desert; the sheer blue sky. A troupe of muscular soldiers stripped to the waist, with shaven heads and golden tanned bodies (and a few with darker skin). Denis Lavant: his battered monkey's face and childlike strut. The men leaping, climbing, rolling. The thump of their boots as they carry out maneuvers in unison. The slap of their bodies against each other, or tumbling to the dust. Benjamin Britten's music (from his opera Billy Budd) evoking some archaic rite. The slosh of water as they rinse and iron their uniforms. The distant roar of the sea. Pure cinema, in other words - though the spectacle of these sculpted, highly-trained bodies in motion is closer to dance, or some forms of close-up sport, than what we conventionally think of as drama. (It's been widely publicised that Denis employed a choreographer on the film.) It's entirely possible to watch Beau Travail in a sort of trancelike ecstasy at the rhythms, the colours, the constant surprises of the editing, without realising how much is going on beneath the surface. It's a very demanding approach to narrative, where we have to piece together the relationships between the characters out of throwaway visual details, brief cryptic comments, and the occasional abrupt flaring-up of conflict. Maybe because it's such a challenge to interpret, this is a movie that's already attracted a lot of first-rate critical comment (one starting-point for those wanting to unlock its secrets would be the excellent article by Helen Bandis in a recent edition of the local online magazine Senses Of Cinema). But it's very far from being some abstract, purely mental art movie: in fact, at a time when mainstream action spectaculars are becoming more and more obsessed with conceptual, digitalised imagery, it's directors like Denis who manage to convey the beauty and excitement of a physical world.
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin

DIRECTOR: Claire Denis

PRODUCER: Patrick Grandperret

SCRIPT: Claire Denis, Jean-Paul Fargeau, Herman Melville (story)


EDITOR: Nelly Quettier

MUSIC: Charles Henri de Pierrefeu, Eran Zur

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arnaud de Moléron

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 17 (Melb Only), June 28, 2001


VIDEO RELEASE: November 28, 2001

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