She’s one of French cinema's best kept secrets; none of CLAIRE DENIS' films have been seen in the UK. But the mesmerising Beau Travail allows British audiences to see why she is so highly- regarded a filmmaker.
Words: Tom Dawson
Claire Denis became involved with Beau Travail (Good Work). a homoerotic tale of French Foreign Legionnaires. when she was asked by the European television network Arte to contribute to a series of films about ‘what it is to be a foreigner'.
‘I knew Djibouti in East
Africa.‘ explains the fiftysomething former
assistant to such directors as Jacques Rivette and Wim Wenders. and director of eight features including (‘lioeolat (her 1989 debut) and Ne’nerte e! Bani. ‘I had spent some of my childhood there. and I knew the Foreign Legion was exercising there. I did some location scouting and I thought that the sight of the soldiers training in this heat and dryness was unbelievable. But something was missing though. I didn‘t want to do a documentary. I wanted to express something that I was seeing through watching these men at a distance. I realised that what I knew about men together. about mens‘ worlds was from books like Herman Melville‘s Billy Budd. I decided that Melville‘s story would be a good angle with which to attack the project.‘
Aware from the outset that she might not receive any co-operation in making Beau Travail from either
50 THE lIST 6—20 Jul 2000
'I felt the French Army would freak outabouta legionnaire being sad and depressed and about to commit suicide.’
1 Claire Denis
Denis Lavent in Beau Travail, French filmmaker Claire Denis' first film to receive UK distribution
the French military authorities or the Djibouti government. Denis actually wrote two different scripts. ‘The first was the diary of Sergeant (‘ialoup (played by Denis Lavant). recollecting his life as a legionnaire. This was a long sequence of recollections. a monologue. that I knew would be the voice-over. which I combined with a description of the characters. The second script was very precise in terms of images. it was like a reflection or an echo of the diary. 1 showed Arte both scripts to give them an understanding of the project. but I told them not to give the diary part to the French army. I felt they would freak out about Galoup. a legionnaire. being so sad and depressed that he‘s about to commit suicide.‘
Shot in just 24 days on a low-budget. Beau Travail presented Denis with a host of logistical difficulties. 'Every day the Djibouti army would come along and say you cannot use that road or that location.‘ she remembers. ‘l was supposed to have a boat. but at the last minute they would say no. So we had to make changes to the script. but I think it’s important to be flexible.‘
And during shooting. Denis even took a leaf out of the handbook of maestro Sergio Leone. who famously blared Ennio Mori'icone’s score out of speakers on the set of Once Upon A 'I'i'me In Tllt’ W'st. ‘While I was writing my script. I was listening to Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd. because the song of the sailor helped me to feel the sense of those men together. For the scene where Sergeant (ialoup and his rival Sentain (played by Gregoire Colin) are circling one another. we had this Britten music on playback on the set. The wind was blowing so hard that you could hardly hear the music. But for a few minutes the wind slowed down and the music came through. and it was so beautiful.‘ Beau 'I‘rai'ail. indeed.
Beau Travail opens Fri 14 Jul. See review.
Lights, camera, action . . .
ANGUISH WITH AMPHIBIANS came to an end for filmmaker Steven Morrison after a three year struggle to make his fantastical debut Frog. Morrison’s animatronic fairytale, featuring a wonderfully weird soundtrack by Edinburgh-based musicians Philip Pinsky and Dino Martino, was screened on Tuesday 27 June at Edinburgh's Filmhouse and certainly shows the promise of Czech animator supreme Jan Svankmajer. As for the future, Pinsky and Martino hope to release their sounds on CD, while Morrison will to continue making films (same realm, bigger budgets), and producer Steven Simpson is slated to work with Vinnie Jones towards the end of the year.
DUNDEE CONTEMPORARY ARTS CINEMA has launched a film proiect designed to commemorate the first 2000 years of the city’s history. Dundee 2000: Film History In The Making is calling for contributions from the local community in the form of old and new home mowes. DCA has appornted Glenn Millar, who took his own camcorder classic Godsend to Cannes last May, and Duncan Of Jordanstone graduate filmmaker Robbie Page to take charge of the proiect, Workshops Will be held for 1018 year olds in July and August. Those interested in attending shOUId explain in writing why and send it to: Millennium Dundee On Film, DCA, 152 Nethergate, Dundee DDl 4DY.
JAZZ ON FILM will be the theme of visiting Glasgow Jazz Festival trumpeter Terence Blanchard's introductory talk to a screening of Spike Lee's Summer Of Sam on Thursday 6 July at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Though the film doesn't boast a jazz soundtrack (it's 705 set and features disco and punk), Blanchard scored Summer Of Sam and other Lee films. Later the same evening, Blanchard appears at the Old Fruitmarket where he will play tracks from his latest CD, Jazz On Film, on which he pays homage to film music by the likes of Duke Ellington and Isaac Hayes.
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The Frog looks into the clockwork box