Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 26.09%
Pretty Crappy: 26.09%
3 reviews, 5 user ratings
Take a bunch of men stripped to their waists and place them in the African desert or along the coastline and film them, but don't have them do very much because that would spoil the aesthetics of contemplating masculinity for the sake of, well, contemplating masculinity.An- ex officer of the French Foreign Legion, recalls, with bitterness and fondness, his days supervising a troop in Djibouti, a remote Africantown.
"A boy's own story seen through a woman's eyes."
Denis Lavant is Galoup, a hard taskmaster. He is sometimes
sadistic, but always watchful, and silently, if dispassionately, proud of the troop of young men under his control. Until a new recruit from Russia, Sentain (Gregoire Colin) comes along and makes Galoup suspicious and resentful for no apparent reason.
Sentain assimilates very well and is soon carried shoulder high by his fellow legionnaires, much to Galoup's brooding disapproval. Ultimately Galoup orchestrates a situation that will send Sentain into the desert with a faulty compass.
But Sentain survives and Galoup is dishonourably discharged from the 'family' of legionnaires.
Directed by Claire Denis in 1999, apparently Beau Travail was a big hit at festivals. It has been described as a meditation on
masculinity and the rituals or army life. There is plenty of time to meditate while you watch Denis' film unfold. Because it unfolds very slowly indeed.
You don't have to worry about keeping up with the plot because you already know it and as there is virtually no change in the characters over the duration of the film, you won't have to worry about that either.
What you can do is feast your eyes, and your ears, because Denis' film is achingly visual and strongly suggestive and it really is a triumph of style over substance. The African landscape has never looked so earth scorchingly beautiful, the coastline never so romantically satisfying.
Add to these the rituals of army life and the cinematography is stunning and emotionally engaging. The score is a wonderful hybrid of rhythm and songs, allowing plenty of opportunity for the legionnaires to metaphorically dance their choreographed sequences.
Homoerotic it most definitely is. Tanned, muscular, bare chested young men, wrestle and bounce off each other with the unspoken suggestion of a Calvin Klein commercial.
The numbing rituals of army life are painstakingly crafted.
Legionnaires, virtually in synch, iron their shirts, wash clothes, march, dig, march and dig some more. There is plenty of time to get the picture.
The banality of army life and the ironic emasculation of the
soldiers is not lost on the filmmaker, nor is the parallel between Galoup's vindictiveness towards Sentain and similar sentiments often attributed to women.
Which begs the question, largely unresolved in my opinion, why does Galoup so dislike Sentain? Is it because he is attracted to him, or is it simple jealousy at the ease with which he is accepted and admired by the other legionnaires? It's an issue that may have made the film more interesting, had Denis chosen to explore it. But perhaps she is simply saying that men are strange, you can't always know what's going on inside their heads!There is a tendency these days to think that all things subtitled are great. That things French with English subtitles are magnifique. Is deeper better? Or is story important too? Beau Travail, translates roughly as 'Good Work' and that it is. But it is not great. Greatness is far less tangible than style.
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originally posted: 02/22/02 23:33:04