Inspired by Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Beau Travail is the most provocative and accomplished film yet by French director Claire Denis (Chocolat, I Can't Sleep, Nenette and Boni). Set against the stunning East African enclave of Djibouti, Beau Travail follows a troupe of men in a small French Foreign Legion outpost. Exercising their muscular torsos under the blaring sun, each day the Legionnaires engage in a hypnotically choreographed routine of drills, chores, and mock battles. Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant) seems the ideal Legionnaire: a brooding loner, cut off from his past. He runs the troupe like a well-oiled machine, until his jealously for a promising young recruit, Sentain, threatens the delicate balance of his life. With the haunting suspense of a Greek tragedy, Galoup's uncontrollable urge to destroy Sentain ultimately leads to his own downfall.
The movies of French director Claire Denis (I Can't Sleep
, Trouble Every Day
) are magical to some viewers and maddening to others because of the indirect way she tells her stories. Plot and character are revealed through what feel like inconsequential moments, while the important events seem to happen between the scenes. Beau Travail
is more accessible than most, partly because of the simplicity of its plot (a jealous Foreign Legion sergeant ruins his own career when his beloved commander becomes fond of a young recruit) but mostly because of the vividness of its imagery, particularly sensuous shots of muscular men sweating in the sun or swimming in the ocean. It's unabashedly homoerotic, but it's also a compelling portrait of the basic emotional drives felt by men in extreme circumstances. --Bret Fetzer