Beau travail

Beau travail

In the Gulf of Djibouti, a platoon of French Foreign Legion repairs the roads and trains for war under the strict discipline of sergeant Galoup. For him, this male community represents his life and home. But the order will gradually break with the arrival of the new recruit Sentain.

“Me, I wish I could be a sailor or soldier, so many times. And to have a family at home dealing with all the problems, water leaks, paying the bills…”

Claire Denis1


“I have been frankly puzzled by some of the slightly bemused and defensive local reactions to Beau travail, which often seem to apologise for its careful pacing, its reliance on pure images and sounds over old-fashioned dialogue, and its modern approach to storytelling. But this is a film which compellingly creates its own frame of reference, taking you into its vivid world and commanding your full sensory and emotional attention.

Beau travail is a masterpiece, a film whose rich inner life only becomes more absorbing and intricate with repeated viewings.”

Adrian Martin2


“In Beau travail, the sets formed by the city streets and the night-club call on each other from the depths of Galoup’s memory and desire, but they also reverberate with each other in an affective realm that goes beyond subjectivity and character to involve the film body as a sensation-producing machine. It is as if the film were sending ripples of affect and thought across a diversity of its moments. [...] In its emphatic choreographic dimension, Beau travail conforms to what Deleuze calls ‘the requirement of the cinema of bodies,’ which is that ‘the character [be] reduced to his own bodily attitudes.’ The character becomes a summation of gestures rather than a preconceived and abstract compendium of psychological traits. Gestures and their affective effects build up in time, reinforcing, negating or multiplying each other.”

Elena del Río3


“The relationship between bodies takes place in the very space of the representation, since […] it is the same space, visible on screen, which is worked by the interval between the body-figures and the physical and impulsional interval between the creator and the body-creatures.”

Alain Bergala4


“What precise meaning does Denis’ work give to this term, ‘post-colonial’? In her films, even after the colonists have moved on and the social structures have been reformed, post-coloniality is above all the sense-memory of colonial violence, the strange, ever-reversible violence inscribed upon the bodies of both oppressor and oppressed. [...] On this level, Denis’ films ask the biopolitical question of Giorgio Agamben’s philosophical work: what distinction gets drawn, by those in power, between full, divine ‘humanity’ and disposable ‘bare life’, the kind of life excommunicated, tortured and annihilated in wars and camps, the dispossession of populations, the homeless shoved out of public sight? In a shifted but dramatically powerful key, this is the terrain explored by Beau travail, with the cruel beating and punishments meted out by Galoup (Denis Levant) as he wanders, blindly and fiercely repressing his own homosexual desire, through a multi-cultural Western/Arabic space that is incomprehensible to him.”

Adrian Martin5


“The film’s final cutback shows an unmoving Galoup standing gracefully in a brief moment of stillness before he throws himself limitlessly back into his dance with a renewed and insatiable vitality. That the camera cuts back to his dance after the final credits have begun to roll illustrates the irrepressibility of Galoup’s performing body. The film body enacts a twirl of its own, recalling the past and letting it arise and writhe anew – but in a moment that itself exists out of time, unadorned by memory or futurity. It is in this final scene of singularity, perched between life and death, couched between the film credits like the oceanic Djibouti is between land and sea, war and peace, that the doomed body belongs.”

Julia Cooper6

UPDATED ON 26.02.2024