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Andrew

Beau Travail (1999)

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5 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I wonder (and here I'm just riffing) if there are some people who are so radically divorced from themselves or from intuited knowledge of themselves that they become inscrutable to themselves. Not just alienated in the modern sense of not being able to verbalize themselves to others but truly lost to themselves. (Maybe Tom Ripley -- at least as Matt Damon plays him, I haven't read the novel, or Stevens in The Remains of the Day.Heck, maybe even Hamlet...?) EDIT: I also wonder what causes that. There may be a divorce between those films that depict it and try to explain it, at least in part from those that leave the pasts of the characters in obscurity so that all you could do is conjecture. The latter certainly feels like the Melville way.)

This is a fascinating conversation, where I feel I'm just nibbling around the edges.  But this paragraph caught my attention.  Certain of the personality disorders (narcissistic and histrionic, particularly) have self-inscrutability, as you've described it here, as a core component.  For individuals with these two personality disorders, it's all about external superficial emotion, shallow judgments, impulsive behavior, and impressionistic statements.  At their worst, they are enduringly incapable of digging deeper.  As far as what causes this, the seminal psychiatry textbooks sink into the mire of the timeless nature/nurture debate, but British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen persuasively argues that there's a very strong biological component (measurable, heritable differences in brain anatomy and function).  Ken, I know you've spoken of an aversion to neuropsychological writings, but Baron-Cohen's book on this subject, The Science of Evil, is a fairly short and accessible read.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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2 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I was thinking about this today, and I kept circling back to how many times Sandra (in Two Days, One Night) says "I don't exist" or variations on that. I used to think she was just being melodramatic or hyperbolic in her depression, though Doug suggested to me that it has a lot more to do with phenomenology and how it influences the films and/or his readings.  And Rosetta has that weird (to me) scene where she lays in bed and says, "I have a job...I have a friend...my name is..." as though she is trying to convince herself that she is something effable.

I have lots of thoughts about these scenes and characters and their ontology (of course I do!), but this is the Beau Travail thread, so I'll try to stay with Denis.

If I'm understanding the inscrutable/ineffable distinction, Ken, the former is one of epistemology and the latter is one of perhaps communication or language? Regarding the former, it seems like you're saying that Levant's character is not only inscrutable to use as the audience, but he's also inscrutable to himself. To take it a step further, I wonder if the other men around him (particularly Colin's character) are just as inscrutable to him, seemingly unknowable and distant despite their close proximity and spending so much time together. I think much of what Beau Travail is exploring—or at least this is what it provokes in my mind—is the absolute subjectivity of the Other, and yet the inherent need to be not only seen but felt/touched/connected to an Other in order to be wholly human. Galoup seems to long for such connection sense of self-identification by way of the Other, and frustrated that he can't understand or connect with others, that there's a distance even when seemingly so close. And I think the camerawork and choreography really heighten this sense of intimate distance for us as the audience.

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18 hours ago, Andrew said:

British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen persuasively argues that there's a very strong biological component (measurable, heritable differences in brain anatomy and function).  Ken, I know you've spoken of an aversion to neuropsychological writings, but Baron-Cohen's book on this subject, The Science of Evil, is a fairly short and accessible read.

Total aside, but Baron-Cohen is the cousin of comedian-provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen. Which I find amusing.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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You know those Facebook Memes that Fandango loves so much? Pick a movie, keep one actor, the rest are played by Sacha Baron Cohen! That is what our Beau Travail thread has become....

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Ok, I watched this last night. Just a wonderful, wonderful experience that opened me up rather than closing me in. Honestly, repeating some things others have said, but this film, in its very form is a philosophical treatise on the body, self-hood, and our relation to the Other. And that it does it formally, through the portrayal of bodies in motion, editing and contrasts between the Africans and Legionnaires, moments that few would think to put on camera, rather than just in narrative or generic forms (not that I'm opposed to those things, of course) speaks to its cinematic qualities. And then it contextualizes it in a way that really challenged me to think what a decolonialized thought and cinema would actually look like.

I think it's philosophical and axiomatic (values-oriented) power makes this film spiritual, in the sense that the spiritual speaks to the deepest convictions we have about our place in the universe and relation to others.

I'll be rating it very high for our list.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Also, realizing after reading through this that I took much more out of the colonial context than has been referenced thus far. Perhaps because my spiritual outlook has been more and more influenced by my own increasingly historical-materialist interpretive lens, I agree that ineffability and unknowability are key themes, but also are inevitably framed through the role of culture in establishing our ideological presuppositions that are so hard to break out of (which is why I think the film reveals how engrained certain interpretations of "the natural" and "civilization' are in us, and how fragile and simply relative they are). Also, the role of selfhood and the individual plays in grand structural projects like imperialism. The scene of the soldiers conforming their bodies in their own way to scoot under the barbed wire training course is one I keep coming back to this morning, as well as any of the scenes between the locals and soldiers. 


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I watched this a couple days ago, too, and I'm in absolute agreement that this film is a masterpiece. 

On 4/13/2020 at 10:48 PM, Joel Mayward said:
On 4/13/2020 at 7:39 PM, Darren H said:

That I still, after all these years, am no closer to being able to articulate how that final scene works, or what it does to my body chemistry each and every time, is my main reason for nominating it. Is it "spiritual"? That might not be the right word. But the film will be a profound object of contemplation for me for the rest of my life.

I've only seen the film once, but I strongly resonate with what you've said here, Darren. That final scene totally stunned me; I recall had a bodily reaction to it, something more than frisson, as if whatever had been awakened in Levant had been transported through the screen and had awakened me too. In this, I think there's something to be said about the link between the somatic and the spiritual, that Denis's films (and Beau Travail in particular) draw out and lovingly dismantle the mind-body, spiritual-physical dichotomies, revealing that these supposed poles might be more united than imagined. So it's more than just the content of the film being "spiritual," or perhaps even the aesthetic alone—the reception we have to the film, what it does to us, to our bodies and souls (if we can even distinguish the two) is mysterious, even mystical.

I had a very similar reaction to the end to what Darren and Joel describe, a bodily, moving reaction that goes way beyond the kind of manipulated tears or thrills that many films traffic. I'm lost count of the times I've rewatched the final scene already (and the several scenes leading up to it), including without sound (the music makes a big difference). 

On 4/15/2020 at 6:46 AM, M. Leary said:

Earlier in BT there is a very ambiguous scene of Galoup following the other soldiers on a night out, where we get hints there that Galoup may already be a ghost - as if the final scene is retrojected back into the middle of the film. At the very least, it is clear at this point that Galoup is driven by motivations and fears that he has no control over, and doesn't really understand. He is like a little boy who doesn't fit in and just follows the other kids at a distance while they play. This really destabilizes any effort at trying to interpret or psychologize his character.

I've rewatched this scene multiple times, too, which Darren and M. Leary discuss at length in their conversation. So much is going on and it seems very symbolic. Galoup's voiceover even says it was a harbinger of later dynamics between himself, Sentain, and Forestier. One thing I thought was interesting is that at night we see him in his Legionnaire dress clothes following them around at night, but then when we see the soldiers at daybreak, he is wearing the same black outfit he wears in the final dance scene. I guess I don't see that as him as a ghostly retrojection from a deathbed moment, but rather as I did when I first saw it: He changed out of his Legion clothes (itself significant) and is wearing his nightclub clothes, which he must have changed into. (I should add that this is complicated by the fact that we see some nightclub scenes from that night in that sequence of the film, and it's the same nightclub event from the first minutes of the film, and when we see Galoup dancing somewhat awkwardly in that beginning scene he's wearing his Legion clothes. And his demeanor does seem different in the morning--but so do the rest of the Legionnaires.) And after that scene ends, we're back with Galoup again in the film's "present" in Marseilles, and he is shirtless and (this is what I thought was interesting) ironing a black shirt that I'm pretty sure is the same one wore in the scene that he remembers and that he wears in the dance at the end. He was wearing a black shirt earlier in the present, but that was a half-zipper shirt unlike the button/collar shirt he irons and dances in. Pretty soon he'll be lying in his habitually inspection-ready- made bed with a gun, but I think he's simply remembering (or misremembering?) that night during which he has located when something menacing began inside him, something I would describe in religious language as covetousness or using Romans 7:15-20 as Ken did earlier in the thread. 

On 4/14/2020 at 2:00 PM, kenmorefield said:

I think the ecstatic (but here I might be infringing on Mike's turf) postulates a knowing that is non-rational and not just non-speakable. That's probably why I think Galoup's dance has uplift, even if it is a suicide emblem (not endorsing that it is, just saying I think it has uplift even if it is).

I was surprised by how definitively Darren and M. Leary discussed the final dance as signifying suicide in some way. That's certainly within the range of interpretations of the ending. When Galoup said early on that he was "unfit for life--unfit for civil life" after getting booted from the Legion, I wondered if the narrative would go there. But Galoup also says something like, "maybe freedom begins in remorse." I don't think that that freedom makes sense as suicide. I read the final dance as Galoup, feeling remorse, returning in his mind to that moment in the nightclub on the night when he got off the straight and narrow and gave himself over to his coveting...something about Sentain. I see the struggle of the dance "between life and death," if not necessarily resolving on the side of life, certainly not resolving on the side of death either.

I think there's a parallel with the ecstatic ending of First Reformed. Clearly Toller's death by suicide is within the range of possible interpretations, but I don't think it's the best one.

As an aside, here are the lyrics of the verses to "The Rhythm of the Night". I found them relevant.

[Verse 1]
You could put some joy upon my face
Oh, sunshine in an empty place
Take me to turn to, and babe I'll make you stay
Oh, I can ease you of your pain
Feel you give me love again
Round and round we go, each time I hear you say

[Verse 2]
Won't you teach me how to love and learn
There'll be nothing left for me to yearn
Think of me and burn, and let me hold your hand
I don't wanna face the world in tears
Please think again, I'm on my knees
Sing that song to me, no reason to repent
I know you wanna say it

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> I think there's a parallel with the ecstatic ending of First Reformed. Clearly Toller's death by suicide is within the range of possible interpretations, but I don't think it's the best one.

That's so interesting, because First Reformed only makes sense to me if the final scene is his fantasy at the moment of death!

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