Claire Denis’s loose retelling of Billy Budd, set among a troop of Foreign Legionnaires stationed in the Gulf of Djibouti, is one of her finest films, an elemental story of misplaced longing and frustrated desire. Under a scorching sun, shirtless young men exercise to the strains of Benjamin Britten under the watchful eye of Denis Lavant’s stone-faced officer Galoup, their obsessively ritualized movements simmering with barely suppressed violence. When a handsome recruit wins the favor of the regiment’s commander, cracks start to appear in Galoup’s fragile composure. In the tense, tightly disciplined atmosphere of military life, Denis found an ideal outlet for two career-long concerns: the quiet agony of repressing one’s emotions, and the terror of finally letting loose.
Claire Denis's new film Bastards is screening in the Main Slate of the 51st New York Film Festival.