Beau Travail

2000, Movie, NR, 90 mins


Director Claire Denis' adaptation of Billy Budd is a so candid in the erotic presentation of the male physique that it deserves to be seen on a double bill with Derek Jarman's equally fearless — and camp — art-house classic SEBASTIANE. Denis shifts Herman Melville's original locale from the rolling decks of a 19th century warship to contemporary Djibouti, where a small squadron of French Legionnaires train under the stern command of Chief Master Sergeant Galloup (Denis Lavant). Their excruciatingly mundane daily routine — which, for lack of anything really meaningful to do, consists of exercising, washing their clothes and ironing razor-sharp creases into their uniforms — is disrupted with the arrival of a new recruit, 22-year-old orphan Gilles Sentain (Gregoire Colin). Sentain settles in with the rest of the Legionnaires, but something about him — his youth and beauty, perhaps? — triggers an irrational jealousy in the older Galloup. Galloup's hatred deepens into a murderous rage after a helicopter crashes into the nearby sea and Sentain, who rescues a few of his fellow recruits, is declared a hero by Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), the commander Galloup worships. Obsessed with what he can't have, Galloup devises a plan to separate the commander from Sentain, whom he fears has become Forestier's new favorite, then sets about destroying the youth through Sentain's own sense of justice. Denis dispenses with most of Melville's hefty Christian symbolism in favor of the story's other great theme — repressed homoerotic desire — and puts cinematographer Agnes Godard to work capturing the men's bodies from every possible vantage point as they sweat and pump their way to physical perfection under the broiling East African sun. True to the themes of her own work, Denis ascribes Galloup's depravity to the effects of imperialism; too far from home for far too long, he's become a monster unfit for life. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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