#128: Beau Travail

Beau Travail (1999) — Dir. Claire Denis

Part of the Top 150 Films series

Good work. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it in English as Beau travail has in French. That sense of aloofness and distancing in the title is present throughout the film, be it in the much-discussed balletic army training rituals, Nelly Quettier’s fractured editing, or Agnès Godard’s sublimely sun-drenched cinematography. Hypnotic in ways that only reveal themselves long after Denis Lavant’s final dance (and what a dance, not only then but throughout!), Denis — Claire, that is — constructs a fascinating mosaic of colonialism and male bonding, highlighting the undercurrents present in both themes. Homoeroticism abounds on the surface level, of course, but the jealousies and admirations the characters have are universal, making the narrative turning point so relatable, so human. But, like the rest of the film, we only come to this conclusion long after the credits roll; Beau travail is a masterpiece of lingering, elliptical affection.