Prior to 2022, no films by women directors cracked the top ten in Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films Ever Made poll. This time, there were two: Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman and Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (which came #7). Ironically, perhaps, Beau Travail (literally, Nice Work) is a film about men, male bodies, male psyches. That said, this very evidently a film from “the female gaze”, and after all, the commission from which Denis worked was to explore “foreigness”.
Inspired by Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, it is set in East Africa, Djbouti, where Claire Denis grew up. Sgt Galoup (Denis Lavant) reflects back on his time in the French Foreign Legion, and in particular the impact of the handsome Sentain (Gregoire Colin) on the other soldiers, and on the commanding officer (Michael Subor). It is intrinsically a film about homosexual attraction, but no more explicitly than Melville’s novella. Physical and abstract, sensual and distant, the film climaxes with one of the most memed dance sequences in cinema (rightly so), but the entire movie is a kind of militarized ballet of bodies in rest and motion (the score includes Benjamin Britten, Neil Young, and Corona’s disco anthem Rhythm of the Night).
Sunday’s screening in our PANTHEON series will feature free refreshments and a short introduction by Sarah Shamash, media artist and educator, Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
Denis Lavant, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor
In French, Italian, and Russian with English subtitles
Sunday March 19
Benjamin Britten, Charles Henri de Pierrefeu
Also in This Series
Runner up in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll of the Greatest Films of All Time (and #1 in 2012) this is Hitchcock's most personal and revealing film, a movie about male neurosis, fetishism and power, with James Stewart and Kim Novak.
Inspired by Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Claire Denis' transfixing Beau Travail is set in East Africa. Sgt Galoup (Denis Lavant) reflects on his time in the French Foreign Legion, and the impact of the handsome Sentain (Gregoire Colin).
Singin' in the Rain
The greatest movie musical ever made, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's sublime Hollywood on Hollywood satire is dynamic, romantic, and very funny, with some of the most memorable dance numbers ever shot - including, of course, the legendary title number.
Man with a Movie Camera
Bottomless invention and frenetic, dizzying montage make this city symphony one of cinema’s sharpest, most exciting experiences nearly a century after its release.
Ozu's most celebrated film follows an aging couple as they come to the city and make the rounds of their now grown children. Busy with their own lives, the children have little time for their parents, who are quickly packed off to hot springs in Osaka.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Based on Arthur C Clarke's short story The Sentinel, 2001 redefined the sci-fi genre. With its radical structure, scant dialogue and oblique narrative this was the first film to emulate the philosophical seriousness of writers like Clarke and Dick.
One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini's 8½ (Otto e mezzo) turns one man's artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema.
Brunette Rita (Laura Elena Harring) wanders Mulholland Drive, dazed and confused after an auto accident. She finds refuge with Betty (Naomi Watts), an aspiring blonde actress who has arrived from Deep River, Ontario, with her innocence intact.
In the Mood for Love
Wong Kar-wai's most popular film is a love story about two neighbours (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) who are drawn together by the long absences of their respective spouses.
In Abbas Kiarostami's self-reflexive non-fiction narrative feature, Sabzian, an illiterate film buff who passed himself off as the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf plays himself in reconstructions of his fraud.
Orson Welles's debut was the most sophisticated movie to come out of the Hollywood studio system to that time, and opened up the creative possibilities of the narrative feature film for generations. For nearly 50 years it was "the best ever made".