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Review: This 4K Restoration of 'Beau Travail' is Essential

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Sep 15, 2020
Review: This 4K Restoration of 'Beau Travail' is Essential

The power of Claire Denis' films stems partially from the elemental: Bodies constantly in motion, reacting to interior and exterior stimuli. To her, colonialism is a physical force that's reflected through many things, including lust, desire, and the proclivity of men to do whatever is necessary to please their leaders.

If that doesn't sound loaded enough, then it's worth noting that what's said above is only cracking the surface of the master French filmmaker's approach. Much more than just experiential, Denis' films have the innate quality of grafting different themes, motifs, sources, etc., to create something elusive. And when you watch them, you find yourself grabbing onto the clearest details for dear life before being carried away by something else, resulting in the feeling of the ethereal.

Her 1999 film "Beau travail" is held up as one of her best works, and rightfully so; it charts the transfer of emotional and physical power in a group of French Legionnaires in Djibouti, while also contextualizing their desire for each other's approval through their useless, futile exercises. The Criterion Collection brings the film, which has only been released prior on a DVD that's of subpar quality, to Blu-ray with a show-stopping 4K restoration that demands to be seen immediately. This is one of the great home entertainment releases of the year, full stop.

Galoup (Denis Lavant) is a former French Foreign Legion sergeant recalling his experiences of leading a troupe of young men in the sunbaked land of Djibouti. Told through flashbacks and montages that elude classic narrative timing, we learn of Galoup's desire for a young soldier (Grégoire Colin), and how his obsession spelled his own professional ruin.

Another note about Denis and grafting different sources together: In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this approach would be a disaster. Here, though, the masculinity baked into Herman Melville's "Billy Budd" gets its finest adaptation, although its adaptation here is very loose. To me, "Beau travail" soars in the way it codifies masculinity in military rituals. To be commanded is to live, but the legionnaires are clearly lost when that direction isn't clear. Why are they in this strange land that doesn't resemble their own? More essentially, who are they without that military structure? In classic Denis fashion, more questions are asked than answered, pushing the viewer to reflect on every frame and pore over the finest details.

Accompanying the incredible 4K restoration is a slew of special features that any fan of the film will adore. There's a terrific new interview between Barry Jenkins and Denis that adds even more mystique to the unclassifiable film, and a new selected-scene commentary with cinematographer Agnès Godard that reveals many details about the production. I highly recommend picking this up immediately. Other special features include:

• Booklet with essay by film critic Girish Shambu
• New video essay by film scholar Judith Mayne
• New interviews with Denis Lavant and Grégoire Colin

"Beau Travail"
Criterion Collection Blu-ray

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