Set during the grand, sweeping Napoleonic age, an officer in the French army insults another officer and sets off a life-long enmity. The two officers, D’Hubert and Feraud, cross swords time and time again in an attempt to achieve justice and preserve their honor.
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As Napoleon rises to power in France, two soldiers become mortal enemies and duel over 16 years. Why? In a post-modern twist, the exact reason is not known, to either one. Keitel's Feraud is an enigmatic savage. Seductively mad, he represents our base instincts. Carradine as honorable Armand is the thinking man; a prisoner of society. THE DUELLISTS captures their bizarre rivalry with thundering, overwhelming beauty.
The much-vaunted, Magic Hour beauty of The Duellists often distracts attention from its intriguingly absurd and admirable, almost Pythonesque, premise. Despite its pictorial aspirations, the excellence of its cast's performances moves it away from the area of turgid Period piece, and from the leaden influence of Kubrick's
galumphing Barry Lyndon.
It had an interesting premise, but in execution it doesn't really work. It just kind of meanders along, and every now and again there's a beautiful shot, but I never felt much dramatic tension. Everything just happened and whether these characters survived or not meant very little to me.
Scott's feature film boasts fine performances by Carradine and a hilarious Keitel in top form. Great imagery and costumes set this film apart from many others. Heavily influenced by Kubrick's Barry Lyndon it also carries many of Ridley's signature shots and techniques. A fine debut preceding many more fine films to come.
For all its beautiful photography, impeccable costumes, etc., this is a pretty straightforward tale of manly enmity. The unlikelihood of the duels approaches absurdity but never becomes laughable. The most striking characterisitc of all these encounters is the sound of the swords. It's so loud it drowns out the ragged breathing of the combatants. Does a great job emphasizing the enigmatic nature of their rivalry.
I have an inordinate and probably over inflated love of this film having seen it innumerable times since being a teenager. It now feels like an old friend to be watched as a treat on high days and holidays. Always highly engaging even when you can mouth the script in advance; and Diana Quick is so beautiful it really shouldn't be allowed. That struck me as a teenage boy too.