Dir: Claire Denis. France. 1998. 90 mins.

Prod cos: Pathe Television, La Sept-Arte, SM Films. Int'l sales: Mercure Distribution. Prod: Jerome Minet. Scr: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau. DoP: Agnes Godard. Ed: Nelly Quettier. Mus: Eran Tzur. Main cast: Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Gregoire Colin, Marta Tafesse Kassa.

A strangely impressionistic portrait of life in the Foreign Legion, Beau Travail will enhance the art-house and festival circuit but in spite of its strong cast and under-stated home-eroticism seems unlikely to break out of its miniaturist, TV origins.

Grizzled Denis Lavant is thoroughly convincing as the former sergeant major Galoup whose career is eventually ruined by the arrival at his dusty outpost on the Gulf of Djibouti of an angelic new recruit played by Gregoire Colin (co-star of Claire Denis' previous award-winning drama Nenette Et Boni). The newcomer's soldierly skills impress Galoup's commanding officer too much and he plans to put his rival out of action for good, leaving him for dead on a salt flat during a strenuous exercise. But the plot backfires and Galoup is drummed out of the Legion for abuse of power.

Visually expressive, the camera caresses the hardened bodies of the legendary legionnaires as they train and prepare their uniforms with an ironic, curiously feminine grace. Several sequences are consciously balletic and there is a wealth of music on the soundtrack from Billy Budd to military chants and disco beats as the remote, self-contained world of the barracks is remembered in flashbacks by the disgraced officer, trying to reconstruct a life for himself in Marseilles. The fragmented structure will militate against a ready acceptance by wider audiences, but the patient viewer will be rewarded with some literally dazzling camerawork, striking natural landscapes and an unexpected insight into the mythical milieu of the Legion.