Based on a brilliant novelette by Joseph Conrad, a tale itself based on a true event, The Duellists (1977) is a beautiful-beautiful incredibly credible Napoleonic swashbuckler that succeeds as a realistic European equivalent of a severe samurai film. Harvey Keitel is like a quiet smouldering if not quite sociopathic steely-gazed Tatsuya Nakadai. Keith Carradine is a tough & flamboyant Toshiro Mifune.
Keith Carradine plays D'Hubert, a duellist who takes work as a dun (professional collector of gambling debts), & a man obsessed with the art of sword. Harvey Keitel is Feraurd, a soldier pursuing D'Hubert in whom he sees the rare man who is his equal in swordsmanship.
At first D'Hubert shares the obsession for duelling for duelling's sake & for honor, but as he is pursued across war-torn Europe for re-matches, he grows weary of Feraurd's fixation on him.
Their rivalry began with an insult & through the years they crossed swords at regular intervals, for one reason & then another without a definitive victor. Over time the pursuit takes on an almost erotic texture with Feraurd increasingly the jilted lover stalking his object of desire. As D'Hubert becomes less & less enamored of death & battle, & grows in humane perspective, his nemisis remains singlemindedly focused & unchanging.
Ridley Scott has made some fine films but never exceeded in perfection his first directorial effort, a true gem, rightly the recipient of Canne's "best debut" recognition. It remains one of the great achievements of world cinema. The duels are staged with hard delicacy & brutal elegance. The emotional climax is disturbing in its mixed sense of humanity, loss, & insane sorrow. The real locations were selected perfectly to evoke the Napoleonic era as fully as Kurosawa could evoke the Tokugawa era. Among my all-time favorites.
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