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beau-travail-poster1BEAU TRAVAIL
Written by Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
Directed by Claire Denis

Starring Denis Lavant, Michel Subor and Grégoire Colin

BEAU TRAVAIL is Claire Denis’ fifth feature film and many argue that it is her best. In fact, BEAU TRAVAIL feels as if it is more of a poem than it is a film. For this film, Denis takes Herman Melville’s novel “Billy Budd, Sailor”, and changes the setting from a ship to the French Foreign Legion.

Though very loosely adapted, the film, like the novel, follows a rivalry between two men. Director, Leos Carax, favourite, Denis Lavant portrays Galoup, an ex-Foreign Legion sergeant. In some of the most beautiful voiceover I have ever heard, Galoup begins to recall his time in the Legion. Under the command of Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), he leads a troop of men in Africa. Galoup becomes extremely jealous of one of his soldiers, Gilles Sentain (Grégoire Colin), who is adored by his fellow soldiers after saving a man in a helicopter crash. Galoup’s hate for Sentain becomes the only thing he can think about and begins to take over his mind.


In Galoup, Claire Denis crafts a very complicated character. The viewer notes that sexual repression and isolation contribute to his many difficulties, but it is never made completely clear why Galoup hates Sentain so harshly. At times this makes it tough for the viewer to sympathize with him. Though it can be hard to understand his actions, Galoup is a wonderful character. Denis builds from there and creates a film that is extremely complex. There are few directors who can reach the beautiful level of complexity that Denis does in her films like this one. Lavant is wonderful as always in this film. His scene at the end is sure to remain in viewers’ minds as one of the strongest endings ever filmed. In addition to having great characters, the film is brilliantly shot. By now, anytime one is aware that Agnes Godard is working on a Denis film, they should expect it to look fantastic.

Some viewers may find the film to be slow, and this will obviously detract from the experience. If one cannot pick up on the subtleties of a Denis film, they may struggle with her pace often. The film often shows everyday life in the French Foreign Legion, and while I, as well as many others, find this fascinating, it is easy to see how it might bore others. BEAU TRAVAIL requires patience, but if you give it your full attention, it will certainly pay off. And damn, what an ending.


The Claire Denis retrospective, “Origins of Desire” continues at TIFF Bell Lightbox through November. For more information, visit

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