For July Melbourne Cinematheque has a three-week retrospective of Claire Denis films. A French-filmmaker who spent much of her childhood travelling throughout France and Africa, Denis’ films are noted for their long-takes, photography, the locations in which they are shot and their entwining of philosophical ideals and literary ideas.
Through her repetitive images, natural settings, and the way she captures the human body, Claire Denis will seduce you. She is able to engage the viewer through all their senses, slowly drawing them deeper into her films and closer to the characters and situations playing out within the often isolated worlds she has created.
Also, the jewellery company Philos-o-Face has a Claire Denis brooch. It’s awesome.
L’Intrus (2004) is such a film that draws strongly from philosophy. Taken from French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s autobiographic essay, Denis films the life, dreams, hopes, fears, and nightmares of Louis Trebor (Michel Subor). Trebor lives in an isolated cabin and, after a heart transplant, decides to find the son he sired in Tahiti many years ago. The intruder here is everybody and everything. Trebor for suddenly turning up on the island and wishing to have a relationship with his son, Trebor’s new heart for infiltrating his body and attempting to adapt to him, and the viewer for being present to Trebor’s public and private thoughts. With sparse and disconnected dialogue, coupled with disjointed and disorientated images, Denis creates an elliptical journey for both Trebor and the viewer.
Beau Travail (1999) is perhaps my favourite of Denis’ films. It is also her most well known. Told non-chronologically by Galoup, a Foreign Legion officer played by (the amazingly committed) Denis Lavant, and set in the Gulf of Djibouti in Africa and Galoup’s apartment in France, the film presents Galoup’s fall from grace. A loyal soldier who is in control of his platoon, Galoup’s personal demons rise to challenge his leadership when new cadet Sentain joins the group. Determined to prove that Sentain is only out to cause trouble, Galoup goes out of his way to humiliate and debase him.
Military life is the perfect forum for Denis to show her love of repetition and disorientating images of human bodies. The sequences of the soldiers’ physical activities appear to be choreographed like a dance, contrasted highly with Galoup’s own dancing, representative of his final actions. Shot on the open desert planes and salt fields of West Africa, these men have nothing to do but practice for an undecided and undeclared war, unaware that it has already started within their own ranks.