Beau Travail (1999)
Claire Denis is a filmmaker as well as a professor of film. She describes her own films as not highly intellectual, but they are often characterized as such. Perhaps one explanation for this is that her work places less emphasis on elaborating narrative or particular ideas, but is rather more notable for the way it inhabits sensate realms of movement, passage, exploration and rhythm. In other words, Denis’s films focus more on the body than the mind. This is quite evident in Beau Travail, where soldiers’ half-naked bodies exceed the level of mere utilitarianism and metamorphosize into sensual works of art.
Beau Travail, which translates ‘Fine Work,’ or ‘Handsome Work,’ is a very loose adaptation of Herman Melville novella, Billy Budd. It concerns a band of French Legionnaires training in Djibouti. Their daily rituals are translated and transformed by Denis and through the cinematography of Agnès Godard into sequences of dance, highly stylized rituals and nonverbal communication. It is a subtle, yet potent re-examination of collective and individual identity.
In an essay entitled, “Ticket to Ride: Claire Denis and the Cinema of the Body,” Adrian Martin distills the poetic essence of Denis’ work: “A cinema of drift, but without nostalgia for the original pieces left behind in the incessant wash….”. The sentiment also reflects Denis’ young life. As the daughter of a military family, she moved residences every couple of years, spending much of her childhood in Africa. She understands the experience of being both insider and outsider at the same time, and this dynamic is explored in Beau Travail, as well as in the rest of her films.
Denis looks at filmmaking in terms of everything underneath being connected. The process is collaborative in function instead of comprised of different parts that work in isolation. Further, she guides the whole process towards opening up to chance and accident.
- Story A
- Acting A
- Visuals A
- Originality/Innovation A
- Enjoyability A-
- Overall A