Beau travail is a 1999 French movie directed by Claire Denis that is loosely based on Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd. However, instead of the maritime setting of the novella, the movie takes place in Djibouti where the protagonists are soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. The film focuses on an ex-Foreign Legion officer as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in Africa.
Louis Trebor, a man nearing 70, lives alone with dogs in the forest near the French-Swiss border. He has heart problems, seeks a transplant, and then goes in search of a son sired years before in Tahiti. Told elliptically, with few words, we see Louis as possibly heartless, ignoring a son who lives nearby who is himself an attentive father to two young children, one named for Louis. He leaves his bed one night – and his lover – to kill an intruder; he dreams, usually of violence. Will his body accept his heart? Will his son accept his offer?
Acclaimed director Claire Denis’s jagged, daringly fragmented and darkest film is a genuinely contemporary film noir inspired by recent French sex ring scandals involving men of wealth and power. Vincent Lindon (Denis’s Friday Night) stars as Marco, a sea captain gone AWOL to avenge his brother-in-law’s suicide and to rescue his estranged sister and his teenaged niece (Lola Créton, Goodbye First Love); Chiara Mastroianni (A Christmas Tale) is Lindon’s married lover, who has sold her soul in exchange for the security of her young son; and the remarkable Michel Subor is her husband – a sleazy financier who is the very embodiment of an evil beyond comprehension.
During the Algerian war for independence from France, a young Frenchman living in Geneva who belongs to a right-wing terrorist group and a young woman who belongs to a left-wing terrorist group meet and fall in love. Complications ensue when the man is suspected by the members of his terrorist group of being a double agent.