Friday, October 11, 2013

Claire Denis retrospective comes to the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Every film fan has holes in their viewing repertoire, but when we get to live in a major metropolitan city where frequent film retrospectives run on a regular basis, those holes get filled pretty quickly. In honour of the release of her brand new film Bastards, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is launching Objects of Desire: The Cinema of Claire Denis .

Objects of Desire: The Cinema of Claire Denis tracks the entire quarter-century career of one of the more vibrant voices in contemporary world cinema. From her debut feature Chocolat and her brand new feature Bastards, her films have revolved around a recurring set of themes like the nature of desire, the representation of race, the depiction of outsiders and the many possible definitions of “family”. Denis’ cinema defies easy categorization even on the best of days. Ranging freely across genres, subjects, tones and methods, she has explored an extraordinary range of experience while remaining unique to herself and her vision earning her reputation and adoration as a unique and quality filmmaker.

Diving into this retrospective has certainly been an experience as her work is certainly one of those viewing holes that I myself have had on my docket for quite some time. There is a film screening on Saturday, October 12 that truly caught my eye and deserves a look for anyone who counts themselves a fan of genuine cinema.

Beau Travail takes us to the soldiers of a small French Foreign Legion outpost spending their days practicing drills and exercising. Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant) seems to be the perfect Legionnaire: a brooding, young loner who runs his troop efficiently until Sentain (Gregoire Colin), a new recruit, arrives and threatens to upset the balance of his world.

11 years into her directorial career, with Beau Travail we truly get a perfect storm of tension, drama and stunning visuals. Denis crafts a hypnotic landscape that we easily get very lost in as we follow these Legionnaires in their lives. The barren desert gets turned into a stunning psychological mind field of raw emotion and unbridled passions. It all makes for such a unique cinematic experience as these characters, who seem so hardened and world weary on the outside, are so vulnerable and so flawed on the inside, showing us an incredible unique portrait of the genuine workings of the male psyche.

Denis Lavant who was most recently scene in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is such a gifted character actor if only through his unique ability to display such emotion and say very little. Lavant wears the psychological pain not only of his character, but of them all as they go through the motions of their lives.

It all plays out in such a minimalist fashion but Lavant’s performance and Denis’ direction truly maximizes the power of it all. While it is admittedly very much an ‘art house’ type film, it is something that demands to be seen by anyone who calls themselves a cinephile, because even if you don’t quite like it, you damn sure will appreciate it.

Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Beau Travail screens Saturday, October 12 as a part of Objects of Desire: The Cinema of Claire Denis retrospective. Visit for more details on this and all the other films playing in the retrospective, which runs October 11 through November 10 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.


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