Although I've only seen two films by Claire Denis, I still regard her as one of my favorite filmmakers. Her style is distinctly patient, creating immensely powerful statements on the nature and ultimate downfall of man by their worst tendencies through deeply impactful images and long sequences of silent action to compliment them. This practice is not unique to Denis, but the way she twists it to become her own most certainly is. Her films are very subtext-rich, yet extremely subtle in nature. In fact, they're almost too subtle to pick up on at some points. However, all that means for those that are willing to read deeper into them is that there's much more to dissect on a rewatch than with most films, and that's definitely what this viewing meant for me.
Denial is at the core of Beau Travail, and everything that Galoup does throughout it comes as a result of that. Whether it's due to some sense of perverted tradition or the idea that he might not know himself as well as he thinks he does, the denial never ceases. He feels it scratching away at him, slowly gnawing at his ego. All the while, he does anything to stop it except admit what he already knows. So, he goes on trying to prove his masculinity through the worst, most destructive means possible. He pushes his troops to their limits to prove his strength, possibly to himself, which only results in more pain in the end. It only leads to destruction. Destruction of oneself and others. There is no upside, and yet he continues.
The wartime setting here is used much less to serve as an examination of war, but rather the natures of the men within that setting. Traditionally, going to war has been perceived as the most masculine thing a man could do. Putting his own life on the line for the defense of others, completely surrendering his own body for the greater good of his nation (or at least, that's how it's portrayed). A sign of true courage that Galoup is obviously familiar with given his ranking. In the end, however, there will always be a certain fragility to it all. Behind all the feigned brutality lies the fact that these men are putting themselves in a more vulnerable position than they've ever been in, not only in a mortal sense but towards one another as well. To me, that dichotomy acts as a parallel to Galoup's struggles with his own sexuality. The more he plays himself off as being the toughest among his men, the more he realizes it's only a facade. As the film progresses, this feeling only grows larger and larger until it reaches its ultimate climax.
This film's credits sequence may be my favorite of all time. To me, it's the perfect breath of fresh air after an unending cascade of claustrophobic self-denial and emotional turmoil. Lavant's dancing here is chock full of pure magnetism. It's just impossible to take your eyes off of him. Up until this point in the film, he had been the embodiment of stoicism: unflinching and unfeeling in every way, burying his emotions as deeply as he possibly can within himself. In this scene, however, it's all finally let loose. A grand, yet humble statement of emancipation to end them all. Truly, the answer to freedom has always been within him. Just shut up and dance. A lesson we could all learn, really.