Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Duellists

In the last year or so I, who used to pay little attention to the people who made movies, have discovered that Ridley Scott (who directed Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Kingdom of Heaven, along with a slew of other movies) is my favorite filmmaker. There are plenty of bones to be picked with his work, especially his recent treatment of women as mysterious non-entities, but the sheer beauty of his cinematography gets me every time. Whatever the subject of the next Scott movie (and he seems to be producing several), you will find me money in hand at the theater.

I am working my way through past Scott projects, and I just saw The Duellists, a little-known 1977 film (only 7 copies circulated in North America in its original release, though one was in Toronto). It was Scott's first feature film and it is visually stunning and thematically right up my alley. It's about two French officers who spend most of the Napoleonic wars fighting inconclusive duels yet refusing to let their quarrel go. Actually, one of them, whom the film follows, is trapped in this situation by his concern for honor, while the other, Captain Feraud seems to live for duels and his own image of himself as a dangerous man -- a quite accurate perception. The rules of honor and chivalry (the term is used in the movie at least once) allow him to kill without restraint.

The whole situation reminds me very much of the high-profile jousters I discussed in my book Deeds of Arms, some of whom were as angry and as anxious to promote themselves as Captain Feraud.

Those not so concerned with this theme will probably still be amazed by the incredible vistas and interior shots, many of them reminiscent of great paintings of the period. Those who know something of moviemaking will be astounded that it was made for $900,000. Even given that it was 30 years ago, that hardly seems possible.



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