Minggu, 22 Mei 2011
Claire Denis - Beau Travail AKA Good Work (1999)
This film focuses on ex-Foreign Legion officer, Galoup, as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in the Gulf of Djibouti. His existence there was happy, strict and regimented, but the arrival of a promising young recruit, Sentain, plants the seeds of jealousy in Galoup's mind. He feels compelled to stop him from coming to the attention of the commandant who he admires, but who ignores him. Ultimately, his jealousy leads to the destruction of both Sentain and himself.
Although the films of Claire Denis have always displayed a cool, vaguely hallucinatory appreciation of the surfaces of the world, none of this gifted French filmmaker's previous work has prepared us for the voluptuous austerity of ''Beau Travail.'' Loosely adapted from ''Billy Budd'' and set in a French Foreign Legion outpost in the East African enclave of Djibouti, the film is narrated by Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant), the movie's equivalent of Claggart, the sinister master-of-arms who destroys an innocent sailor in Melville's allegorical novella.
''Beau Travail'' hews to the basic outlines of Melville's fable, which was set in the British Navy in 1797, but the story is really just a pretext for what emerges as a woman's rapt meditation on an all-male society, its pecking order and its punishing rituals of authority, repression, discipline and honor. And because it is set in an impoverished East African country (Ms. Denis spent her childhood in French West Africa), the film has a political dimension. You sense the repressed racial tensions among the legionnaires, who are both white European and black African, and their uneasy relationship with the townspeople near the outpost.
What Ms. Denis has made of ''Billy Budd'' is the visually spellbinding cinematic equivalent of a military ballet in which the legionnaires' rigorous drills and training rituals are depicted as ecstatic rites of purification, the embodiment of an impenetrable masculine mystique before which the director stands in awe. Where another filmmaker exploring the same material might emphasize its homoerotic subtext, Ms. Denis is in search of something deeper, more elemental and ultimately more elusive.
Observing the young men's beautiful bodies in motion, the movie often presents them as the bodies of sleek trained animals relentlessly conditioned into mechanized fighting machines. Some of the most haunting images show the men wriggling and scurrying like agitated rodents through the dirt under barbed wire. But other sequences have an astounding poignancy. In one training ritual, the bare-chested legionnaires ritually and without a trace of self-consciousness or squeamishness throw themselves into each other's arms. A stunning sequence views them from a distance through a chain fence as they frolic in the waters in the Gulf of Aden. The landscape, which juxtaposes extreme beauty and desolation, surreally mirrors this life of rugged austerity. The parched, stony wasteland in which they train abuts a gorgeous turquoise sea from whose waters jut three volcanic islands.
''Beau Travail'' de-emphasizes Melville's allegory to the point that the story is almost incidental. Its Billy Budd figure, Gilles Sentain (Gregoire Colin), offends the sergeant by saving the life of a fellow soldier who is seriously injured when a helicopter mysteriously crashes into the sea. Refusing to believe in Sentain's selflessness, Galoup decides Sentain is really up to no good and begins persecuting him. Mr. Colin's role is a marked departure for this talented actor, who recently played a lean and hungry predator in ''The Dreamlife of Angels.'' But instead of the radiant embodiment of goodness, Sentain is a model of blank military discipline and obedience whose humane instincts are what get him into trouble.
In the embattled relationship that develops between them, we never have a sense of pure good and pure evil locked in a metaphysical struggle. Nor does the film build up a terrifying sense of implacable cruelty goaded into viciousness by an image of heroic innocence and victimization. Galoup ultimately emerges as a sympathetic figure whose urge to destroy Sentain is portrayed as an inevitable, almost Pavlovian response to the punishing asceticism of military life. Ms. Denis, having been entranced by the life she is been observing, ultimately wants to disavow its mystique.
Language:French, Italian, Russian