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 1951 opera based on the novella.


Adjudant-Chef Galoup of the French Foreign Legion reflects on his life from his home Marseille. He recalls his time in Djibouti, where he led a section of men under the command of Commandant Bruno Forestier. Galoup admired and envied many of Forestier's qualities, including his clear affection from the men, and retains a wristband with Forestier's name. Galoup has a Djiboutian girlfriend, and they often go out dancing.

One day, a new recruit named Gilles Sentain joins Galoup's section. Galoup harbors an immediate and seemingly irrational hostility towards Sentain, and vows to destroy him. When Sentain hands a canteen of water to another soldier who is being punished by being forced 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 ordering him to walk back to the base alone. However, Galoup had previously tampered with Sentain's compass, causing him to become lost and collapse from dehydration in the arid salt flats.

Sentain is ultimately found and rescued by locals, but never returns to the base and is presumed to have deserted. His compass is later found by the legionnaires at a local sale of salt-encrusted novelties, and is believed to prove Sentain is dead. On the assumption that Galoup has either killed or attempted to kill Sentain, Galoup is sent back to France by Forestier for a court martial, ending his career in the Foreign Legion. He makes his bed in the immaculate military manner, then lies on top clutching a pistol, and reads aloud the phrase tattooed on his chest: "Sert la bonne cause et meurt" ("Serve the good cause then die"). The film ends with Galoup 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] Film scholar Erika Balsom wrote that the ending sequence "is perhaps the best ending of any film, ever," explaining that "Galoup finds a rhythm of life that follows none of the patterns of colonial, patriarchal power the film so skilfully traces and complicates...he inhabits a utopia of movement without rules"[8]

The review aggregator website, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 91/100 based on 20 reviews, which they characterized as "universal acclaim."[9] Rotten Tomatoes, another aggregator, reports an 86% approval rating based on 43 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".[10] Variety magazine named Beau Travail as one of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time (No. 69). In the 2022 Sight and Sound critic’s poll, Beau Travail was ranked the 7th best movie of all time.


  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. ^ "". 31 March 2000.
  6. ^ "Beau Travail" – via
  7. ^ J. Hoberman, "Review: Beau Travail", Village Voice
  8. ^ Balsom, Erika (2019-01-08). "The Closing Sequence of Claire Denis's 'Beau Travail'". Frieze. No. 200. ISSN 0962-0672. Retrieved 2022-12-13.
  9. ^ Beau Travail,
  10. ^ "Beau Travail (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved September 14, 2022.

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