Beau Travail

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Beau Travail
Beau Travail poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClaire Denis
Screenplay byClaire Denis
Jean-Pol Fargeau
Based onBilly Budd
by Herman Melville
Produced byPatrick Grandperret
StarringDenis Lavant
Michel Subor
CinematographyAgnès Godard
Edited byNelly Quettier
Music byBenjamin Britten
Charles Henri de Pierrefeu
Distributed byPyramide Distribution
Release date
  • 1999 (1999)
Running time
90 minutes
Box office$570,000[1]

Beau Travail (pronounced [bo tʁa.vaj], French for "good work") is a 1999 French film directed by Claire Denis that is loosely based on Herman Melville's 1888 novella Billy Budd. The story is set in Djibouti, where the protagonists are soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. Parts of the soundtrack of the movie are from Benjamin Britten's opera based on the novella.

Plot summary[edit]

The film begins with the silhouettes of soldiers being ordered to stand in the sun as an endurance test. It is a recollection of Adjudant-Chef Galoup (Denis Lavant), from his home in Marseille, where he is writing his memoirs. He remembers the heat of Djibouti, where he led his section of men under the command of Commandant Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor). We see numerous training scenes, including assault courses and the securing of buildings. Much of the reminiscence has a balletic quality; many of these reminiscences are set against a back-drop of the traditional, local Djibouti life. Galoup has a beautiful young local girlfriend and they often go out dancing.

Galoup says of Forestier: I admired him without knowing why. He retains a wristband with the word Bruno. Galoup envies many things in Forestier, including his clear affection from the men. However, they happily socialise together, playing chess and snooker.

One day, Galoup's section is joined by Gilles Sentain (Grégoire Colin), whose physical beauty, social skills, and fortitude make Galoup envious. Repressed homosexual feelings from Galoup are suggested. He swears to destroy Sentain.

When Sentain hands a canteen of water to another soldier who is being punished by being ordered to dig a large hole in the heat of the day, Galoup chastises Sentain and knocks the water from his hand. Sentain strikes Galoup, who retaliates by taking Sentain into the desert and leaving him to walk back to the base alone. However Sentain does not return because Galoup has tampered with his compass, and the soldier consequently becomes lost. When Sentain fails to return, he is assumed to have deserted.

Sentain collapses in the arid salt flats. His compass is spotted by fellow legionnaires at a sale of local salt-encrusted novelties and is believed to prove Sentain is dead. However, Sentain is found by tribespeople who place him on a bus where he is looked after.

However, on the assumption that Galoup has either killed or tried to kill Sentain, Galoup is sent back to France by his commander for a court martial. It ends his career in the Foreign Legion, his only real love. We see him make his bed in the immaculate military manner, then lie on top clutching a pistol. The final scene is Galoup back at a night club in Djibouti, engaging in a lively acrobatic solo dance to "The Rhythm of the Night".



In an interview, Denis said, "One of the cast had actually been in the Legion, so we took all their real exercises and did them together every day, to concentrate the actors as a group. We never said we were going to choreograph the film. But afterwards, when we started shooting, using Britten's music, those exercises became like a dance."[2]


The film was highly acclaimed in the United States, topping the Village Voice's Film Critics' Poll in 2000, with Claire Denis also placing at #2 for best director.[3] Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader rated it a "masterpiece," giving it the paper's highest rating of four stars.[4] Charles Taylor of wrote that "Beau Travail is the most extreme example of [Denis'] talent, baffling and exhilarating. I don't know when I've seen a movie that is in so many ways foreign to what draws me to movies and still felt under a spell."[5] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it the magazine's highest rating, calling it "unique and unforgettable."[6] J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote that the film is "so tactile in its cinematography, inventive in its camera placement, and sensuous in its editing that the purposefully oblique and languid narrative is all but eclipsed."[7]

The review aggregator website, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 91/100 based on 20 reviews, which they characterized as "universal acclaim."[8] Rotten Tomatoes, another aggregator, reports an 85% approval rating based on 40 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Beau Travail finds director Claire Denis drawing on classic literature to construct a modern tragedy fueled by timeless desires".[9]


  1. ^ "Beau travail (2000) - JPBox-Office".
  2. ^ Interview: Claire Denis and Beau Travail, Daily Telegraph, 16 August 2003
  3. ^ "Village Voice".
  4. ^ "Unsatisfied Men | Jonathan Rosenbaum".
  5. ^ "".
  6. ^ "Beau Travail" – via
  7. ^ J. Hoberman, "Review: Beau Travail", Village Voice
  8. ^ Beau Travail,
  9. ^ "Beau Travail (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 19, 2021.

External links[edit]