Beau Travail (encore!)

Co-presented by the French Film and TV Office

What happens when those who thrive on control find it slipping away? French Foreign Legion sergeant Galoup (Leos Carax regular Denis Lavant) violently fumbles with this quandary in Claire Denis’ masterful fifth feature, set in the Horn of Africa in the peacetime Republic of Djibouti. Like the rusting relics of this country’s militarized past, the chinks in Galoup’s armor begin to show as he struggles to maintain authority over his troops with the quiet desperation of a man newly drained of significance. As the lithe legionnaires run military drills (they are staying in shape for… what, exactly?), their perspiring bodies receive the same reverent lensing as the agile athletes of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, thanks to Denis’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer Agnès Godard. With simple stretching sessions blocked with geometric, Busby Berkeley-like precision, underwater sequences that flirt with the ghost of Esther Williams, and pulsing nighttime discotheques, Beau Travail looks back at its New Wave predecessors while tipping its beret to neoclassical ballet traditions for a singular piece of elliptical, formally abstracted cinema – with a final scene you might never forget.

Dir. Claire Denis, 1999, 35mm, 92 min.

Watch the Cinefamily original trailer!