Beau travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
This film focuses on an ex-Foreign Legion officer as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in Africa.
This critically acclaimed film by Claire Denis is a beautiful tale of manhood in the 20th Century. A century that was punctuated by wars and the evolution of the man in the society. Centered around the tensions between men, the relationships of power and envy, and the clash between the military service, the civil life, and the opposition of the rich world (France) and the poor world (Djibouti) Beau travail demonstrates with metaphoric and symbolism a simple story of the post-modern world.
The central character of Galoup (Denis Lavant) is an interesting portrayal of a man in a position of power and submission. Leading a French Foreign troop in the deserts of Djibouti and directing a tough training feels isolated and even in those vast lands, a bit claustrophobic at times. A strong comparison comes to mind with a Spartan regiment of strong men musculated and often shown without a shirt. Their trainings are as gracious as dances and as demanding as a military exercise should be.
The camera of Agnès Godard, no relationship to Jean-Luc, is moving and creates a presence that involves the viewer. The editing proves to be particular and creates an ensemble of bits and moments of a fast but demanding lifestyle. Beau travail is exhausting and also relaxing when its moments of contemplation are in full effect.
As my second encounter with director Claire Denis, the first was 35 rhums, Beau travail is as beautiful as it is meditative and the character of Galoup gives a great canvas for its highly talented actor Denis Lavant. Evocative of many European auteur films to come in the early 21st Century, Denis’ film was probably a revelation in its whole but especially its aesthetics. Godard’s camera as aforementioned gives a nervous signature to the film.