The Military and Human Expression
Galoup (Denis Lavant), an ex-Foreign Legion officer, looks back at his life when he led troops in the Gulf of Djibouti. He was happy and he actually enjoyed the regimentation and the strictness that transpired then. When Sentain (Gregoire Colin), a young recruit put jealousy into Galoup’s mind, it was the beginning of the downfall of both men. The film looks at what military life does to human expression.
Director Claire Denis retells “Billy Bud” in this film. The post-colonial Africa parallels post-Revolution Europe but instead of sailors we have the French Foreign Legion. Galoup has an irrational hatred for Sentain (the representative Billy Budd).
The plot is actually quite simple with Galoup having to deal with his jealousy when Sentain becomes a hero in the eyes of his men and this jealousy consumes him. The military and its exercises are everywhere in the movie Galoup feels that discipline is the only form of self-expression in the Legion and this is the reason he so hates Sentain who tries to bring humanity to the legionnaires.
What makes this so interesting is that we do not see any of the humanity so feared by Galoup and only at the end of the film do we see Sentain act counter to Galoup and what we see is that he has done nothing that any soldier would do. Of course we can also see this is as a triangle between Galoup, Sentain and the men of the Legion. We are made well aware that the only thing that Galoup really cares about is showing affection though discipline. With Sentain, Galoup fears losing the main love of his life and he reacts by becoming even stricter.
Another point the movie makes is to show the absurdity and pointlessness of military routines. The film is most definitely anti-military. Interesting also is the linear plot and narrative in a world of non-ending and pointless military expressions. The film begins with a series of what we see is an unconnected and random sequences—soldiers marching over rocks, a nightclub scene, an officer sitting alone, African women dancing at a bar and so on. We soon realize that these scenes represent a duality that is continued throughout the film.