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
Inspired by Herman Melville's 'Billy Budd', filmmaker Claire Denis' 'Beau Travail' is a stunning combination of literature, music and dance that explores the near-mythical world of the French Foreign Legion. Dennis Lavant stars as Galoup, a sergeant-major whose position and power are threatened when the bravery and heroism of new recruit Sentain (Gregoire Colin) attracts the attention of the platoon's commandant (Michel Subor). Enraged, Galoup plots Sentain's downfall, a doomed course of action that leads to his own undoing. Director Denis creates a dark mounting tension that underlies the exquisite cinematography of Agnes Godard, whose stark visual style contrasts vividly with the graceful training rituals of the sculpted young soldiers.