Introspective and subtle, Claire Denis' BEAU TRAVAIL offers a modern retelling of Herman Melville's BILLY BUDD, transposing the tale of an officer who self-destructs through his jealousy of a new recruit to an outpost of the French Foreign Legion. And although the film is elegant in both its simplicity and purity, I myself found it a shade too simple and pure to be completely effective.
Still, BEAU TRAVAIL has two things going for it: director Denis' cinematic eye and superior performances throughout. One truly senses the location in all its elemental nature, and the cinematography is remarkable for its restrained elegance. The cast follows suit, with direct and underplayed performances that fold seamlessly into both Denis' atmosphere and the story itself, and the result is often quite stylish.
But for all its elegance and style, I found BEAU TRAVAIL too introspective and subtle for its own good; to me it lacks any significant substance, with both story and characters slipping through my attention as easily as sand slips through my hand. While this is doubtlessly part of director Denis' intent, and while I have admired many a film with a notably elusive touch, my ultimate reaction to BEAU TRAVAIL is that it is a rather superficial exercise in style over substance, and I cannot say that it leads me to interest in the director's other work.
The DVD transfer is reasonable, if not entirely first rate, and there are few bonuses of any kind. In passing, I also note that BEAU TRAVAIL is often marketed as a film with homoerotic context and imagery, but I personally did not find it so. Final word: worth a look, but not greatly memorable for all that.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer