Beau Travail - Hot Ironing Action

Beau Travail - Terrific Ironing Scenes

We were chatting about the Corby Trouser Press recently, which reminded me of the film Beau Travail. Released in 1999, Beau Travail has some of the finest ironing scenes committed to celluloid. Directed by French director Claire Denis, the film is based on Herman Melville's Billy Budd.

The original story is set aboard a British warship. Billy is a handsome and popular sailor who rouses a morbid obsession in his superior, Master at Arms John Claggart. Like an Iago character, Claggart sets out to destroy Billy without apparent motive.

In Beau Travail the Billy Budd story moves to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and the characters are transposed to French Foreign Legionnaires. Gilles Santain, played by Grégoire Colin, is the Budd character, a new recruit to the legion. His sergeant, Galoup, played by Denis Lavant, is the Claggart character.

The film is beautifully shot and even the mundane experiences of everyday army life, such as the mesmerising ironing scenes, when shot against the desert settings are a visual treat.

Surprisingly few films explore the possibilities of film as a visual art form, but merely act as a device to tell a story. Denis, like Peter Greenaway, approaches film-making with a painterly eye. Beautiful film.

Britten's Billy Budd

The soundtrack of Beau Travail uses fragments of Benjamin Britten's operatic version of the Billy Budd story, with libretto by E. M. Forster. Let's hear the most famous aria Handsomely Done, My Lad.

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it and suffers.' Creepy.


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