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Beau Travail
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Claire Denis
Produced by Patrick Grandperret
Written by Claire Denis
Jean-Pol Fargeau
Herman Melville (Novella)
Music by Charles Henri de Pierrefeu
Eran Zur
Cinematography by Agnès Godard
Editing by Nelly Quettier
Release Date 1999
Running Time 93 min.
Language French, Italian, Russian
More Information

Beau Travail

What is the relationship between military duty and human emotion? Clare Denis explores this dichotomy in her film Beau Travail, an adaption of the Herman Melville’s novel Billy Budd transported to post-colonial Africa. 

Beau Travail tells the story of Galoup, an officer leading a troop of the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti, East Africa. He is a career military man, and he lives his life by a code of strict discipline and restrained emotion. Day after day, he leads his soldiers in exercises to pass the time and keep his troops in peak military condition. And Claire Denis’ direction captures the beauty of these men, muscles and shaved heads glistening in the hot desert sun, the monotony of their routine forming a kind of liturgy. To Galoup, this routine keeps time going, day by day. He knows this world well, and he is satisfied. 

However, the arrival of one new recruit threatens Galoup’s routine. This soldier isn't like the others. He is sensitive. He shows genuine emotion. And the other soldiers are drawn to him. Galoup sees his grip of control begin to slip. And when Galoup’s jealousy flares into revenge, he is forced into civilian exile. In Paris, Galoup finds himself all alone. He maintains his disciplined military lifestyle, but the city doesn't move at his measured pace. Galoup finds himself struggling to cope. 

Then the final scene hits like a bolt out of the blue. It is a jolt of pure cinema, but also an enigma. What does this reveal of Galoup’s fate? Is it the best dance scene ever seen on film, or an ultimate tragedy? Clare Denis leaves the viewer to draw her conclusions. But what is clear is that Beau Travail is a moving exploration of a mind trapped within itself. 

—Jim Sanders

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