Good Work (Beau Travail) (NR)

Drama 92 March 31, 2000
By Leslie Dunlap
Inspired by Melville's tragic homage to the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd, this latest film by the great French director Claire Denis (Chocolat) charts the erotic emotional warfare between three French legionnaires stationed at Djibouti, on the starkly beautiful East African coast. Our narrator, the platoon's weathered chief master sergeant (Denis Lavant), nourishes a paranoiac hatred of a fresh recruit (Gregoire Colin), who has earned the affection of the cryptic commanding officer (Michel Subor). Denis ingeniously shows men of war not at war: There's no (apparent) enemy, no explosions, no bloodbath, and no inspiring ideal--only drill practice, domestic routines, and slow-brimming rage. That, and naked men, half-dressed men, men in uniform, shaved men, tattooed men, men at work, men at ease, men among men (even when they're with women), and men against men. Beau Travail follows suit with its maker's focus on masculinity, eroticizing men among men so fervently that Village Voice critic Elliott Stein recently counted it among his favorite "gay" films of the year. Denis not only turns the combat drill into a slow dance, but mystifies domestic drills: The soldiers cook, iron, and shave with the same intense precision--and erotic charge--as they use to practice war. Basically, Denis does for soldiers what Chantal Akerman did for housewives in Jeanne Dielman, revealing men's quotidian gestures in precise, loving detail. And, like the local women she portrays observing the platoon with amusement and awe alike, Denis is both impressed by and alarmed at what she sees. (Leslie Dunlap)
Claire Denis Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Gregorie Colin, Marta Tafesse Kassa, Richard Courcet Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau Jerome Minet

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