It’s kind of hard to know what to expect from a new film by Ridley Scott, the director chosen to close the exciting 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival. After all, there’s the innovative Scott from 1982’s “Blade Runner”; the libertarian, from “Thelma and Louise”, 1991; the conservative, from “Black Hawk in Danger”, from 2001; and so on.
In his new film, “The Last Duel”, shown out of competition, the veteran appears in his most progressive verve, in tune with the sensibility of 2021, with a feature in defense of female freedom.
The film marks the return of the partnership of actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as screenwriters. Their last collaboration had been on the 1997 stardom “Indomitable Genius,” for which they won an —arguable— Oscar.
This time, however, they share the credits with a woman, Nicole Holofcener, known for the screenplay of “Can You Forgive Me?”, from 2018. It makes sense. For a film with such overtly feminist intentions, having a text written by just two big guys could give rise to criticism, and the film seems to want anything but trouble with Hollywood in MeToo’s days.
“Damon and Affleck needed someone to write the part of the female character, Marguerite, so they called me,” said Holofcener at a press conference, noting, however, that the three screenwriters eventually participated in the making of all the main characters.
The script is careful with words and situations—it was done with zeal. But in the interview, the actors didn’t always show the same caution. “I consider myself a feminist,” Affleck told the press, certainly with good intentions, but perhaps ignoring that part of the militancy believes that “being a feminist” is something reserved exclusively for women.
In any case, the film brings Scott once again attuned to identity guidelines, as well as in his previous feature, “All the Money in the World”, from 2017, which erased the presence of the “cancelled” Kevin Spacey, accused of sexual abuse, and replaced him with Christopher Plummer.
At 83, the director is full of projects, such as the long-awaited “A Casa Gucci” and a sequel to “Gladiator”. The beginning of “The Last Duel” is marked by fast-paced scenes, and some sequences seem to have been cut prematurely — at first, it seems that Scott was more concerned with some of his new projects than with the actual film. question.
But we soon discover that this is part of the narrative. The plot revisits in general the same episodes, but seen by three different characters, two warrior friends and the wife of one of them. Hence the need to go only to the essentials.
The story takes place in 14th century France, when Jean, played by Damon, a military man of aristocratic origin, faces in a duel Jacques —Adam Driver—, also a warrior, but coming from a much more humble social milieu. The reason for the brawl is Marguerite, played by Jodie Comer, married to Jean and who accuses Jacques of rape.
When Jean wants to face disaffection, no one questions his reasons. After all, Jacques committed a “crime against a man’s property” by raping Marguerite—sexual violence itself is secondary in the eyes of that society.
It is interesting to choose the script for three versions of the same story, but perhaps this was not the best theme to use the structure, since it contradicts the intentions of the film. After all, starting from the principle that each narrative is just a version of something, and not the truth itself, requires that they all need to be relativized – it is a little meaningless that only Marguerite’s is taken as the “truth”.
But the viewer understands what the film wants – to show how men tend to view situations from an extremely phallocentric point of view. As a denunciation of the absurdly oppressive sexism of those times, which has left its roots even today, “The Last Duel” is a successful film.
In the final stretch of the competitive exhibition in Venice, no film emerged with a force that seems capable of displacing the two favorites for the Golden Lion — “Madres Paralelas”, by Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar, and “A Mão de Deus”, by Italian Paolo Sorrentino .
Perhaps the French-Lebanese Audrey Diwan is the only real threat, as her “L’Événement” received a very warm reception. But the film, which shows the difficulties of a girl to have an abortion, has against itself the fact that it appears only one year after another with the same theme, “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always”, which earned the American Eliza Hittman the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Festival 2020.
The Russian “Captain Volkonogov Escaped”, by the duo Alexey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova, left the audience more divided, but it is probably the most aesthetically daring work of the entire competition. It shows a Soviet agent who participated in several murders of suspected subversion, forced to assume crimes that they did not commit before dying.
Repentant, he looks for each victim’s family and reports what actually happened. The film mixes pop energy and a tone of political denunciation, with outbursts of surrealism, settling scores with a past that Russia has yet to overcome.
On the Lido, there are those who believe that the films by American Paul Schrader, “The Card Counter”, and by New Zealander Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”, also have a chance of taking the Lion. The answer will only come with the ceremony for the delivery of the trophies, which takes place this Saturday.