Good Work (Beau Travail)

Director: Claire Denis
Screenwriters: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


An experimental ode of exquisite force and beauty, Beau Travail might very well be Claire Denis’s most provocative and innovative film to date, following her acclaimed Chocolat and Nenette et Bon. With a faint nod to Melville’s Billy Budd, Denis permeates her imagery with orgiastic intensity as she unleashes her complex and gloriously poetic discourse on contemporary masculinity and neocolonialism.

Set in the sandblasted flats of Djibouti in east Africa, the film traces the lives of several inhabitants of a small desert outpost of the French Foreign Legion. Under the pretext of serving their country and the community, the legionnaires pump and stretch in ritualistic symmetry, arcane gods on a lost horizon of unknown import. Remembering these days with nostalgic reverie is our storyteller, Sergeant Galoup, a brooding loner “without ideals, working in an army without a future.” Under the vigilant, leathery eye of superior officer Forrestier, Galoup drills his troops like a well-oiled machine, until the new recruit,

Sentain, threatens to disrupt the camp’s delicate balance. Scorched by the desert’s blazing heat and the legionnaires’ intensified rivalry, tension mounts in the camp, threatening a tragedy of Greco-Roman proportions.
Mirroring the sinewy musculature of her subjects, Denis’s narrative and characterizations are deliberately minimalist, inscribed almost in code, and distilled to pure, elemental form. Hard-edged images of desolate landscapes and balletic military drills rise from Denis’s canvas to create a stunning portrait of masculine love, jealousy, brutality, and alienation. Mysterious, haunting, and intensely homoerotic, Beau Travail is a masterful work from a director of unique and seasoned gifts.

— Rebecca Yeldham

Screening Details

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