Stereoactive Movie Club Ep 37 // Beau Travail

Directed by Claire Denis, 1999's 'Beau Travail' updates Herman Melville's Billy Budd to a post-colonial French Legionnaire outpost in Djibouti.

Stereoactive Movie Club Ep 37 // Beau Travail
Stereoactive Movie Club Round Six (Jeremiah's Pick)
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It’s Jeremiah’s Round 6 Pick: Beau Travail, the 1999 film directed by Clair Denis.

Beau Travail, which is something of a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, was commissioned by a European culture channel Arte as a film about foreignness. It updates the classic novella to feature French Legionnaires stationed in the East African nation of Djibouti, which at the time of the film’s production had only recently, relatively speaking, ceased to be ruled by France after nearly a century of occupation. The film received good reviews when it was released in the United States, even topping the Village Voice’s critics poll in 2000. It was also recognized at several film festivals and by critics associations.

As for our purposes, Beau Travail made its first appearance in the top 10 of Sight and Sound’s “greatest films” polling in 2022 when it was ranked #7 by critics; it was also tied at #14 on the directors poll. Among the filmmakers who had it on their top 10 lists that year were Steve McQueen, Kirsten Johnson, Atom Egoyan, and Barry Jenkins.

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