BEAU TRAVAIL was a very small budget and very few days of shooting, it was a completely free experience. Also free because the French army that was really training in Djibouti was opposed to the fact that we were doing the movie, and therefore we had to keep in mind that the script should be able to change day by day in case they stopped the movie. I always told my producer that I was ready to finish shooting in hotel rooms, in case they would stop us from going outside. So we did rehearse in Paris. We rehearsed a long time. We knew everything we wanted to do, and then in Djibouti it was like free jazz, you know? It was like being free and every day we could shoot. — Claire Denis
With her ravishingly sensual take on Herman Melville’s novella, Claire Denis firmly established herself as one of the great visual tone poets of our time. Amid the azure waters and sunbaked desert landscapes of Djibouti, a French Foreign Legion sergeant (Denis Lavant) sows the seeds of his own ruin as his obsession with a striking young recruit (Grégoire Colin) plays out to the thunderous, operatic strains of Benjamin Britten. Denis and cinematographer Agnès Godard fold military and masculine codes of honor, colonialism’s legacy, destructive jealousy, and repressed desire into shimmering, hypnotic images that ultimately explode in one of the most startling and unforgettable endings in all of modern cinema.
The 4K restoration of Denis’ masterpiece—supervised by the cinematographer—is now streaming via Janus Films. See link below for details.
Claire Denis, Beau Travail (1999), from top: Grégoire Colin; Beau Travail (4); Denis Lavant; Nicolas Duvauchelle (second from right) and Colin (left); Beau Travail. Images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the actors, the photographers, and Janus Films.