One of the very finest French films released in 2000, Claire Denis' resetting of Billy Budd among modern-day French Foreign Legionnaires welds near-experimental formal minimalism with a savage exposure of male aggression, jealousy and repressed homosexual desire, all set in an eye-peeling desert setting and choreographed to the grunts of men at work. Ravaged-featured Denis Lavant plays Galoup, who narrates his story in flashback, perhaps at the moment before his life ends. A sergeant in charge of a troop of Legionnaires, Galoup's position as the favourite of the Commander... (Michel Subor) is threatened by the arrival of pretty-boy Sentain (Grégoire Colin, who played the spoiled wastrel in The Dream Life of Angels). Galloup plots to discredit his rival. As the drama unfolds through indirection and Galloup's unreliable disclosures, Denis dwells lovingly on the ballet of men at work as the soldiers run through their obstacle courses, practice combat pas de deux and disport like lean, khaki-clad dolphins by the Mediterranean shore. Sort of like Full Metal Jacket meets early Derek Jarman. It's a sensuous and exquisite film, as perceptive about relationships between men as it is about those between colonisers and the colonised. --Leslie Felperin [show more]
Claire Denis' most visionary and fully accomplished film is "Beau Travail," an experimental re-telling of Herman Melville's story "Billy Budd." Denis relocates the story among a French Foreign Legion troop stationed in the deserts of Northern Africa, where Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant) begins to feel a raging and inexplicable jealousy for a young new recruit in his charge. Lavant's seething and near-silent performance drives the film, which uses dialogue only minimally and thus puts the emphasis on the heat-hazy, sexually charged visuals. Denis' roving camera gives a lurid sensuality to the spectacle of shirtless men exercising in the desert, infusing the film with homosexual undertones. The even pace builds steadily towards the inevitable climax, and then Denis turns expectations on their head by providing a stunning and provocative coda which I'll leave it to each viewer to explore themself. This is a true modern masterpiece, and Tartan's DVD transfer perfectly captures the stunning imagery. There's also a good interview with the always fascinating Denis.
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