Master French filmmaker Claire Denis (I Can't Sleep, Trouble Every Day) updates Herman Melville's Billy Budd in a manner that could hardly be more modern for 1999's Beau Travail. French Legion Sgt. Galoup (Denis Lavant) works his charges mercilessly, running them through relentless gymnastics and mock conflicts under the punishing sun of the East African desert. But Galoup's spartan routine gets rocked by the arrival of handsome young Sentain (Grégoire Colin). Seeing in Sentain the apotheosis of his own sapped youth--as well as the embodiment of some sexual ideals he dare not articulate, even to himself--Galoup vows to destroy the recruit. Most of the film's screen time is consumed by the recruits' balletic physical drills, which become absurdly stylized (not to mention openly homoerotic) over time. The film's military critique, subtle and wordlessly communicated, predictably questions the need to make young humans into automatons, but also goes much deeper in examining the kinds of damaged relationships one might form in a fascistically hypermasculine social sphere. Yet the final minutes of film--and don't dare stop watching once the credits start rolling--jump off the screen with startling energy and tweak Galoup's character substantially, verifying both Lavant's incomparable physical presence as an actor and the film's recalcitrant sense of humor.