Safeway Cart

Beau Travail is a perfect film, and one of the many reasons it is perfect is Claire Denis’s uncanny knack for discovering moments of transcendence with music. Watching the film again last night, I found myself daydreaming about Denis’s record collection, imagining myself in her home, sitting silently as she cues up songs and conjures visions in words. Beau Travail does that to me.

Denis includes snippets from Benjamin Britten’s opera, Billy Budd, which is only fitting given that the film is a loose adaptation of Melville’s novella. I’m not familiar with the piece, but its dissonant chorus reminds me of the bits of Ligeti that Kubrick uses in 2001. She contrasts the high drama of Britten with 90s dance music and manages to find the beauty in it as well. I’ve spent too much of this morning watching over and over again the film’s final sequence, a brilliant fantasy — well, I call it a “fantasy,” but it’s one of those moments that exists in some magical, subjective space just outside of Denis’s main narrative — a fantasy in which Denis Lavant unleashes a savage but impossibly graceful dance to the sound of Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night.” Somehow, in this context, the otherwise banal lyrics find some poetry. It’s really a remarkable scene.

The new Song of the Moment, Neil Young’s “Safeway Cart,” scores a scene in which the Legionnaires march through a rocky desert, one of their many meaningless exercises in the film. It plays like a dirge and is one of Beau Travail‘s few explicit references to the Christian allegory at play.

Like a Safeway cart rolling down the street
Like a sandal mark on the Savior’s feet
Just keep rolling on it’s a ghetto dawn
Baby looks so bad with her TV eyes
Going, going, gone and the picture cries
It’s a ghetto dawn
Baby looks so bad with her TV eyes
Going, going, gone and the picture cries
Baby looks so bad with her TV eyes
Like a Safeway cart rolling down the street
Past the Handy mart to the Savior’s feet
Going, going, gone and the picture cries
Baby looks so sad
Baby looks so bad
It’s a ghetto dawn
Like a Safeway cart rolling down the street
Like a sandal mark on the Savior’s feet
Just keep rolling on to a ghetto dawn