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Beau Travail: Sparta

Do you know man? Claire Denis does. Her masterful mirage puts the colonialist man under the scalpel in a hot, furious ballet.

Officer Galoup lies on his bedsheets pulled chokehold tight with a Glock held lovingly against his crotch. He’s just been court-martialled for leaving that beautiful cunt Sentain to suffocate on a salt pan on the horn of Africa. The arterial worm in his left bicep pulses at a steady rate. Claire Denis’ camera pans to his chest where his tattoo reads “serve the good cause and die”. He wishes he could fucking die but he wasn’t given permission. Mon Commandant… Do you know man? We all find nourishment in tell-tale cannibalism (“I did”, “you are”, “we could”) but man lives on the terse musculature of the narrative he tells himself, so boisterous it has subjugated for centuries those who know that bedtime stories are only for children. Galoup lies there, bored and suicidal (which are basically the same thing) and remembers the halcyon mirage when he was the loudest of the legionnaires. They were a knuckle of bodies stationed upon the volcanic brittle of Djibouti, slick backs like low bluffs for the tongue and thighs like moonlit anacondas bounding over the Moussa Ali. Djibouti: once French Somaliland, once Ra’s hail of Punt, once the exodus crossing for early hominins, then a black desert full of Adam. Its chroma was unreal in negative, asphalt cliffs hummed by cobalt sea, and a blind white gulf of ancient salt flats, whilst Galoup and Sentain’s phalanx stretched towards heaven in a brown, tan and nude ballet. No straight man could film the male body with such reverence, Denis recognising in the David-veined hands and curl of mountain shoulders a dangerous religiosity. She films paeaned masculinity coming to terms with itself only through the locked horns of more testosterone, post-earth, post-woman, calloused feet coaxing destruction on the shaft of a volcano. Their drills are rituals and the narcotic throb of lactic acid is no drooling opiate but the turgid beckoning of the soul out to the inner edges of the flesh: one, two, left, right, ba-dum, I’m here. It's an embrace to know one’s own hot blood. Galoup’s agoge was an endless zenith, on one side Commander Bruno, about whom he had lapis dreams of pederasty because to be predated upon is also to be chosen, but cloying at the other was Sentain so pretty, so leave him at the base of a mountain for the eyes of no bastard. Do you know man? Is Beau Travail a man, flexed by the gaze of a woman? Are cathedrals man? Grand pianos? The shoreline? Waves? Old mariners used to call the ocean their mistress because its rippled dome had the same potential for cavaliering death as it did creation. Man fears and yearns for both, colonising bodies whilst longing for permission to lay down his arms, clambering for glory yet shrivelling back spent and hearing Infinity! Infinity! like a limpet clung to the edge of the world. Yukio Mishima had his first orgasm to the grim pink penetration of St. Sebastian, wood-bound boy, Billy Budd stuck fast and puppy-eyed for God as sacrifice bore new orifices in his armpit and hip like sanctified taboos instantly ransacked by a concurrent “agony and ecstasy”. Oh Galoup, what a dream. Heaven so beautiful, tight chests and arms swinging around necks to the tune of calm boulders. Fraternity in lips and loose cargo shorts. Agony and ecstasy, Bruno, mon commandant, for Bruno, Galoup becomes Sebastian, martyr for his ephor’s adoration, and leaves Sentain to die on the infinite sea’s ejaculate: one billion hungry crystals refracting one billion angel gauntlets. Contained within man’s orgasm is man, whose belly not rocked by tides and knotted in a drive for prolongation is halted by a defiling denouement that slices like an iridescent blade through butter. Schlunck. The salt of the earth is urged forth, and the elliptical is made star-ghast corona for momentary catatonics before abject protoplasm.

There’s chemistry in these elements. Divination of the Flesh Dance Naked Witch Boys The Desert The End The Dandruff of the Earth Salt Come Want Blood Death. Somewhere amongst it all is man and Denis brings it all under the piercing sun of her iris. I thought legionnaires were supposed to wear armour but there are naked thoughts that betray the sex hidden in hegemony and lie in a prostrate sabbath to the commandment of skin. It's this: honour is found where the finite shoreline meets the endless waves, but your vanity tricks you into thinking that you get to decide where that is. No, baby, just go willingly into the rhythm of the night.


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