Our Ridley Scott week continues on with of all things a time period piece. Yeah talk about out of his realm. That alone should be worth the view am I right? Get yourself some popcorn and a soft drink and let’s settle down. This is The Duellists.
Director Ridley Scott is better known for science fiction or action based films this really was a rare treat for him to tackle a foreign war tale of notoriety by novelist and script writer Joseph Conrad (Sabotage, Victory, Outcast of the Islands, Face to Face, The Secret Agent and Apocalypse Now) scrolls the story during the Napoleonic Age, this feature length film was Ridley Scott’s first movie he helmed.
This film feels influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in both style and cinematography brings a tale of hatred, angst and jealousy through a war torn time. Based on the short story The Duel ; the story opens in Strasbourg in 1800 with Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud of the 7th Hussars (Harvey Keitel of Reservoir Dogs, Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Pulp Fiction, Bad Lieutenant, Thelma & Louise, The Piano, Red Dragon and National Treasure) , an obsessed duelist nearly kills a nephew of the city’s mayor in a duel. Getting squeezed politically by the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard (Robert Stephens of Romeo and Juliet, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Empire of the Sun) sends Lieutenant Armand d’Hubert of the 3rd Hussars (Keith Carradine ofNashville, Southern Comfort, 2 Days in the Valley, Dead Man’s Walk, Wild Bill, Deadwood and Dexter) to put him under house arrest pending charges.
The arrest of course took place at the house of a very prominent local lady and Feraud took this as an insult from d’Hubert and challenges him to a duel. d’ Hubert manages to render him unconscious. The war rages on around the men’s quarrel and they don’t encounter each other for six months in Augsburg, Feraud demands another duel of d’Hubert and wounds him severely. Feraud recovers and takes lesson from a true swords master, making their next duel exhausting and a draw. d’Hubert takes comfort in being promoted to Captain and thus forbidding him engage in further duels with an officer of different ranks. 1806 we see that d’Hubert two weeks from promotion to major when he once again encounters Feraud and the duel is now on horseback as each executes blades drawn exquisitely.
What makes this film so fascinating is this point of struggle during the Hundred Days war, the defeat at Waterloo and marking the 30 Years war as nothing more than background. It shows how the country is suffering and you almost feel the absurdity of the obsessive need for dueling during a time when there should be unification. It was a clever backdrop and truly captures the time and essence of this piece and I feel it was beautifully executed. This is but the beginning for our humble director and I feel makes up for Prometheus.