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Film Review: “The Last Duel” (2021)


Rating: 4 out of 5.

There are films that can be considered made ahead of their time. Arguably, Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, “Citizen Kane” and “A Clockwork Orange” are some of them. Ridley Scott has established his name not just as an innovator but rather as an artist whose vision and view are so impeccable you barely can find proper words to describe it. “Gladiator”, “Alien” or “Blade Runner” – Scott is a pioneer in uncovering stories in a new way many filmmakers can only wish to achieve.

“The Last Duel” is a period drama based on true events that tell the story from the perspective of its three main characters: Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), a fine warrior, the best of his kind; Jacques Le Gris, a handsome man, with the best opportunities he can get, and the best friend and the right hand to Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) if he can be called that way, and Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), Jean’s wife, who claims that Jacques raped her while she was at home alone. To reinstate justice, an upset and angry man calls for a duel to the death, and if Jean loses, his wife will be set on fire right in front of the eyes of the public.

The complexity of “The last Duel” is right before our eyes. When the film begins, you find Jean de Carrouges bravely fighting alongside Jacques, the man who soon will abuse Jean’s wife. It starts with Chapter One, called, The Truth According to Jean de Carrouges, which, pretty much, reveals to us about his marriage to Marguerite, how he becomes a knight and turns bankrupt. Financial difficulties, stubbornness and lack of manners, the man leaves for Paris, to get the money he was owed, but to return home and find his wife sexually violated by the man he considered a friend.

Then, there comes Chapters 2 and 3, where we get more glimpses into the events that lead to the opening scene, the crucial fight, the last duel of two men who are determined to stick to the truth and defend it until their last breath. What the film explores though, and that’s what you can’t really take it lightly, is how the truth was perceived, embarrassing and hurtful questions being asked in court, when the woman must defend her claim in order for justice to be served. “Did you enjoy the process in the end (implying if she enjoyed being raped)”, “Were you sexually satisfied with your husband?”, “How do we know you did not want for this to happen to you”, are some of the questions that will shock you but won’t surprise you at all.

The reality is, we can go back in time, declare cancel culture and begin a crusade against the past. The truth is, our present time has not changed much. Women are still afraid to come forward because of the abovementioned questions, or the perception or belief that women invite sexual assault on themselves. Therefore, I can see why “The Last Duel” might be disliked by many or rejected by millennials. It’s too intelligent, too good, and, frankly, test every audience and challenges them to the fullest. Exquisite screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and based on the 2004 book by Eric Jager, the story had enough materials to be used in the film, and it does – better than you can imagine.

That being said, “The Last Duel” does not try to imply that men are wrong and women are right. Not at all. What it captures is the ageless sexism towards women; being judged, downgraded and disrespected by men. When, for instance, Marguerite tells her husband about the rape, the look he gives her is no different from what you will see again, towards the end of the film. Almost like he is so stubborn, he is willing to go against his own life, fight for the truth, yet, be who he was – an arrogant man who happens to have enough dignity to stand by his wife’s side.

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