Galoup invents an off-base mission for the men, repairing a virtually nonexistent road in the middle of a wasteland. (How's that for an image of uselessness?) The scene shifts from a normal barracks to an encampment in the wild. Instead of running an obstacle course and practicing maneuvers, the soldiers now perform exercises that might be seen in a class in yoga or modern dance. Around the time Galoup springs his trap, you see the soldiers paired off, hurling their bare chests together for an embrace, then bounding backward to do it again. Love and murder, boredom and futility, the onetime colony and colonialism's human jetsam. "Goodbye, Frenchie, and good riddance," Galoup says to himself, dreaming the voice of an African woman, as he prepares to return to a France that's foreign soil to him.
Galoup is played by Denis Lavant, the slit-eyed, pockmarked, furrow-browed acrobat who is best known for bringing grit to Leos Carax's movies. (He's been the sand in the oyster, the real toad in the imaginary garden.) It's worth the price of admission just to see Lavant at the end credits, dancing alone before a mirror, his body set free at last, as he seems to translate all the film's events into a fit of disco madness. Gilles is Grégoire Colin, who has worked with Denis before (on Nénette et Boni) and was also seen as the heartless rich boy in Erick Zonca's The Dreamlife of Angels. Here, as the lowest-ranking of Legionnaires, he scarcely gets to utter a word. The scene of his performance is confined to the surface of his skin; he breathes the character through his pores. Bruno is Michel Subor, his face composed into a mask of cynicism. Underneath it lies a glamour-puss past, which Denis calls up by showing a head shot from the years when Subor appeared in Jules et Jim and Le Petit Soldat.
How to sum up a film that's both audacious and immaculate, crazed and beautiful, eloquent and yet, at its heart, profoundly silent? Maybe the best I can do is to Anglicize the title: Nice work.
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Film critic David Walsh writes to draw my attention, and yours, to recent attacks against Deepa Mehta, who has been attempting to shoot a new feature, Water, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It appears that local groups of Hindu nationalists, egged on by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have rampaged through Mehta's set and issued death threats against her. The state government has joined in by blocking production, on the grounds that Mehta provoked the disturbances.
Information about the attacks can be found on the World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org). The site is also soliciting statements of support for Mehta. Whatever small help you can extend to her, through wsws.org or elsewhere, please do. A government, a political party and a religious organization are all allied against this one unarmed woman, in fear of the colored shadows she might throw upon a screen.