Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Film Review Beau Travail (Good Work)

What constitutes a good ending to a film? Is it one that leaves you perplexed and challenging what you have just seen or is it clarity, a complete ending? I don't think there is satisfactory answer and often films produce very unsatisfactory endings from an audience perspective. Yet without giving away the fragmentation of the end to Beau Travail (1999) I was left stumped. I was left wondering about aspects of sub text to the film I had just viewed.

In essence Beau Travail is a story based on a French Foreign Legion troop in an African outpost. It centres on the sergeant Galup played by Denis Lavant, whom becomes jealous of a new recruit Gilles Sentain who attracts the notice of the camp Commander Bruno Forestier. There it is, the word camp and its appropriation for indication of mannerisms as a comment on homosexuality. The camp of the Foreign Legion is desolate, arduous and routine. The storyline contrasts obvious army style training with more surreal quasi tai chi, yoga and martial arts aspects of their daily discipline. Of which there are at times hints of homo eroticism, but as a viewer the subtle nature of this makes you question or wonder if you are reading too much or too little on this element of plot. More so when the film is in French and you rely on the sub titles to some extent or for all of the translation of dialogue.

The whole film is fragmented. The narrative relies on the in fill of narration by Galup looking back to the build up of his actions and his ensuing dismissal from the legion. This is not the French Foreign Legion romanticised, it makes you fascinated and yet surprised at its very existence. Particularly as the contrast between the legionnaires and the landscape is so dramatic. The setting and cinematography (Agnes Godard) of the film is spectacular, although one moment in it exposed perhaps only one weakness in the editing or the filming, when the sun catches the camera lenses and causes a sun spot to be projected on the film where there is no window. Picky I know but it spoilt temporarily what was otherwise a flawless example of beautiful camera work and direction. Claire Denis is a fantastic example of a good female film director, the subject matter is male, the story is masculinity and there is no resort to sex or violence. The beauty of Beau Travail is its complexity and at the same time its simplicity.

The complexity lies in the jarring nature that the spectactor, the audience views the unfolding story. The narcissistic clips of Galup woven into the film, his ironing, the black shirt and trouser combo, his hair combing and ultimately his dance at the end all play on your mind. There is a dance between the spectacle of the body combat training session of the troop and the walk around an imaginary circle between Galup and Sentain set to Benjamin Britten's operatic rendition of Herman Melville's Billy Budd.

What Denis achieves is a film that challenges you in your viewing and construction of narrative. Beau Travail place thoughts of sexuality and violence without having to localise it on screen in an overt fashion. It also achieves a perfect blend of stillness and miniml dialogue to allow observation to reveal the story.

It is the sort of film that provides great creative options to think about in respect of the colour in the cinematography and the setting in East Africa.

1 comment:

Sharon Rose said...

Hi there-Another film I haven't heard of, but this is a stunning review and this blog certainly is just right for you my dear!!