The movie “The Last Duel” is another story about boys who get beaten up

In the early 1990s, American historian Eric Jaeger was looking for a writing topic that would allow him to expand his academic audience. During these searches, he encounters an unknown story from 14th-century France, which had three main characters: a knight named Jean de Cruz, his partner Marguerite and another knight, Jacques Le Gary.

Marguerite testified that Le-Gary raped her. He denied it, and King Charles VI decided to resolve it in a duel between the rapist knight and the rapist’s husband. The rules, like the spirit of the time, were as follows: If the husband loses, it is a sign from above that the wife is lying, and therefore not only will he die, but she too, who will rise to the stake and die in agony.

Jaeger’s book eventually came out in 2004, fulfilling his ambition to make medieval history accessible beyond academia. Three years ago the production of a film based on the book began, and after a series of delays due to the corona, it is now coming to screens.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, who at the age of 83 did not rest for a moment and later this year another film of his own will be released, “Gucci House”. The screenplay was written by the wonderful and acclaimed indie creator Nicole Holofsner, along with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who also star. Damon plays Jean de Cruz, and Affleck plays Count Pierre D’Alenson, the vicious patron of Le Gary, played by Adam Driver. Marguerite de Cruz is played by the British Judy Comer, one of the rising stars of recent times.

As is customary nowadays, the film is spread over no less than two and a half hours, which are divided into three episodes. The first describes the events from the point of view of de Cruz and the third from the perspective of his partner, while in the middle we also observe them from the eyes of Le Gary. As befits a cinematic work based on an academic’s book, the detail makes it possible to draw a fascinating portrait of life in the 14th century.

If one accepts the fact that the actors are contemporary stars who speak with an American or British accent but embody medieval French, it can also be said that the game displays are excellent. Matt Damon excels as the knight who turns out to be the king’s ultimate head boy. Adam Driver can be seen everywhere in recent years, but he is not tired for a moment. Judy Comer perpetuates here her status as one of the most promising actresses of her generation, and Ben Affleck adds character and color as the Slytherin Count.

The period reconstruction is spectacular, and the result is an impressive epic that is a pleasure to see on the big screen. What Ridley Scott has forgotten, many others have not yet learned, and his directing display is sweeping. Most of all, the film is fascinating because of its preoccupation with rape culture. The scenario does well to show that the case in question is not isolated.

One of the most important dialogues in the film takes place between the protagonist and the character who was until then quite marginal in the plot, revealing to her how common sexual assaults are, and how much there is a culture of coming to terms with them and rendering them. Another powerful scene, and especially appallingly relevant, takes place within the walls of the court.

Although all this takes place in the 14th century, the judges ask the rapist questions that sound like quotes we have often read from contemporary legal debates. “Why would a man like him even have to rape someone?” And “Could it be that you enjoyed the rape?” They are just some of the difficulties that are said by lawmakers in the Middle Ages, but resonate sentences that are still hurled today at those who testify to sexual assault.

However, it is not clear what the division into three chapters contributes to. True, Marguerite’s episode is the last and she’s given the last word, but why present the different perspectives in the first place? The structure of the record is relevant when there is doubt about the truth or when there is a desire to illustrate its fluidity. This is not the case here. Beyond that, this repetition also leads to the protagonist’s rape being shown over and over again. The question is how, if at all, a sexual assault should be presented charged as such, so why insist on celebrating this moment?

Another problem: in the end, everything that happens in the film leads to the battle scene between the knights, in which Marguerite’s husband will have a chance to avenge what he sees first and foremost as an injury to his ego and dignity. In doing so, the film aligns with what is commonly referred to as the “women in the refrigerator” cliché, named after the comic book in which superhero Green Lantern finds the body of his beloved in the refrigerator and goes out to avenge her killers to claim his insult. That is, “The Last Duel” is another one of those movies where the assault on a woman is primarily a plot excuse that motivates the man to action.

There is a lot of talk in this period drama, but in the end its climactic moment is a battle between two knights around the question of who has a bigger bayonet. “The Last Duel” is endowed with many qualities and sensitivities, but in the end it becomes another story about boys who go beating. 

By Editor

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