Beau Travail

In DVD/Blu-ray by Samuel Love

Loosely based on Herman Melville’s 1888 novella Billy Budd, Claire Denis’ Beau Travail is a stunning film of immense beauty – so it’s no surprise that the film is making its UK Blu-ray debut as part of the Criterion Collection.

The film follows Galoup (Denis Lavant), an ex-legionnaire who has returned home to France and struggles to adjust to civilian life. As he recalls his once glorious life, Beau Travail offers a poetic snapshot of the legionnaire experience without a conventional beginning, middle or ending. The film feels mysteriously enigmatic, with its image and sounds combining to create a unique experience that no other work has come close to in the years since. 

In an interview, director 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(…). We never said we were going to choreograph the film. But afterwards, when we started shooting, using (Benjamin) Britten’s music, those exercises became like a dance”. This sums up Beau Travail – it has a certain grace to it that feels so magical and rhythmic, and it is that delivery that makes the film so unique and wonderful.

Criterion’s 4K restoration of the film is simply stunning, bringing cinematographer Agnes Godard’s mesmerising visuals to life. Godard supervised this new transfer, so you can take comfort in the fact it looks exactly as it should. The audio is absolutely stunning too, with everything from the subtlety of the wind in the desert to the booming final dance scene to Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” sounding utterly pristine. Special features include a new video interview with star Denis Lavant, a selected-scene commentary with Godard and more.

Beau Travail is a mesmerising and poetic piece of work that has lost absolutely none of its power or beauty in the last 21 years.