Claire Denis’ Beau Travail is a French movie that is based on Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd. It recounts the life of a tough and loyal sergeant major, Galoup, who finds his commanding position in peril after a new recruit, Sentain, enlists and wins the heart of their Commanding Officer, Bruno. Hence, Galoup has to now fight off his jealous tendencies.
As a film, Blue Travail thrusts the idea of homosexuality into the spotlight, existing as a prevailing theme throughout. Half-naked men are constantly seen taking part in physical rituals like dancing and engaging in feminine tasks (eg: ironing) as part of their military discipline. Although this may represent a regimented art form projected by Denis herself, there is an objectifying stance towards these characters, who at the end of the day turn into symbols of fascination.
On this note, it was however commendable that Blue Travail ended in what I would consider an open one that leaves viewers with questions on what Denis wanted them to takeaway from Galoup’s suicide. Although he exists as a loner for most parts of the film, it can be deduced that he in fact, is a homosexual too. As he lies on his cot, we see images of young soldiers running through his head in what I reckon is a repressed fantasy, before he pulls the trigger off-screen. Does this then mean that a homosexual’s only way out is to only kill himself?
As part of my creative response to this, I crafted a 4-stanza poem to encapsulate Galoup’s own thoughts by assuming his role in the film and tracing them to his eventual demise. These were either subtly dealt, or never exclusively divulged.
Riddled by thoughts of these young men
Their necks in my arms, I gently squeeze
Then you came and wrecked my den
The sin of your voice, my new disease
Your gentle steps in rhythms I adore
Keeping up with a note or two
Happy I was with life before
But now I contend with a different brew
You stole what I cared for the most
The man of my life, the Legion at heart
I sent you off to die and boast
That I was the man who took you apart
A portrait of time in slow repeat
I sway closer and start to roam
Gun in my mouth, the end now complete
Please tell them I’m finally home
Stanza 1: Galoup’s darkest fantasies of sexually admiring his own cadets are established. He dreams up various ways to enact these fetishes in reality but is unable to as he is their superior after all. Soon, he develops an immense hatred towards Sentain after he enlists as Sentain attempts to bring more humanity towards the camp. This can only mean that Galloup can no longer continue with his closet erotic observations of these boys.
Stanza 2 and 3: A revealing confession is made when we realize that Sentain is in fact Galoup’s object of fantasy. Galoup’s preoccupation with him is not made obvious in the film, but it is apparent that his repressed desire has manifested in Galoup’s own resentment. His conscience demands he falls in love with Sentain, but not being able to transcends his adulation to one of hate.
Galoup reflects on his life and proclaims that it was indeed better before Sentain entered. Then, he could assist Bruno loyally, to eventually “serve the good cause and die”. Now, Sentain has stolen his figure of admiration and has to fight for his lost “right”. Their relationship develops further and Galoup triumphantly resorts to send Sentain to fend for his own as punishment for insubordination, equipping him with a sabotaged compass. As a result, Galloup is exiled and awaits his sentence from a court martial.
Stanza 4: The last piece of jigsaw, inspired by what I saw in the closing scene of Beau Travail, discloses Galoup as a homosexual who has yearned for men all these while. He dances freely to Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night”, a gay anthem in very loose movements that he would not have conjured while alive. This represents a cathartic experience that he has craved for while alive, only attainable ironically after he ends his.
About the Author:
Haikal is an aspiring writer who enjoys reading graphic novels and takes a keen interest in concept art.