Claire Denis’ much admired fin-de-millennium tone poem Beau Travail — screening tonight in a 4k digital restoration at Coolidge Corner Theatre — acknowledges its debt to Herman Melville’s posthumously published novella Billy Budd in its opening credits.
But the debt is not a great one. Denis’ adaptation is as free as they come, shifting the tale’s setting from a late 18th century Royal Navy warship to a sunbaked French Legionnaire camp in late 20th century Djibouti, and radically reducing and revising its plot, dialogue and characterizations.
Especially stentorian snatches of Benjamin Britten’s operatic adaptation swell up sporadically, and underscore the simmering, agonistic tensions among the film’s three main players, only one of whom — named Galoup here rather than Budd, and played with a kind of headlong, malevolent blankness by Denis Levant — has much sense of where it’s all heading.
Denis and her anti-hero linger long and lovingly (luridly and obsessively, too) on the camp’s panoply of exertion-chiseled male physiques. They are legion, very attractive, and dangerously overexposed to the sun. It’s straining men, man, and something’s going to give.
dir. Claire Denis
Screening at Coolidge Corner Theatre, Sunday 5/23, at 10:00 PM (tickets still available at press time!)
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