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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 Dr. Sarah Shamash, media artist and educator, Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Director

Claire Denis

Cast

Denis Lavant, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor

Credits
Country of Origin

France

Year

1999

Language

In French, Italian, and Russian with English subtitles

19+
93 min

Book Tickets

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Credits

Producer

Patrick Grandperret

Screenwriter

Claire Denis

Cinematography

Agnès Godard

Editor

Nelly Quettier

Original Music

Benjamin Britten, Charles Henri de Pierrefeu

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