The Duellists (1977)

More than anything else Ridley Scott’s directing debut, The Duellists, tells the story of an obsession. I’m glad Guy (Phoenix Cinema) suggested it as I wasn’t aware of the movie and found it oddly captivating and very beautiful too. Plus I find duels fascinating. I can’t really say why.

Based on the short story The Duel by Joseph Conrad The Duellists tells the story of a lifelong enmity. Two officers of Napoleon’s army, d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) and Feraud (Harvey Keitel), pursue each other for years and fight one duel after the other. While the first duel might have made some sense, at least at the time, the following duels are less and less understandable. Although d’Hubert tries to reason with Feraud, the latter becomes more and more obsessed as the years pass by.

The movie has a lot more to offer than a fascinating story and two interesting characters. It’s visually stunning and brilliantly acted. I couldn’t even say which of the two actors I liked better. Carradine as d’Hubert who seems more complex, more humane or Keitel as Feraud who is relentless in his pursuit of d’Hubert. If you like sword fighting you will adore The Duellists anyway as the choreography of the fights, as many reviewers have commented, is excellent.

The movie starts in 1800 and ends around 1815. After almost every duel the men lose sight of each other for a few months or even years as they are often posted in other places. They sometimes meet under quite improbable circumstances, once for example while retreating from Moscow where they fight a group of Cossacks together.

The code of duels was quite complex, I suppose every country had its own set of rules. I felt we learned quite a lot about the rules in France at the time. What made it especially dramatic was the fact that if one of them had been promoted but not the other one it would have become impossible to go on fighting. So every time d’Hubert is promoted he hopes the folly is about to end, only to find out later that Feraud meanwhile has been promoted to the same rank.

The Duellists has been compared to Barry Lyndon but I don’t think they are that similar. Be it as it may, I’ feel more inclined to rewatch The Duellists, I thought it was more captivating. And I really must read the novella soon.

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander

This is the first time I’m doing a watchalong and I’m quite excited. The first pick was Master & Commander and we watched it before and are now posting the answers to the questions today.

How did you like the movie?

I have seen Master & Commander before and always liked it. The story is suspenseful, the characters are interesting and what is even more important to me, the cinematography is stunning. It is one of those movies you can re-watch and you will see it in a different way every time.

Is Aubrey a good Captain?

I think this depends on how you define a good Captain. He certainly is a very charismatic Captain and his people would do everything for him. He is also said to be very lucky and since seamen seem to be a very superstitious lot, it’s good for him to be considered lucky. This assures their respect. But apart from being charismatic and lucky, he is adept and very cunning.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I’d say, it’s the young boy, Blakeney who looses an arm but stays so brave and poised. The boy is very intelligent and learns a great deal as well from the Captain  as from the doctor. I liked how he is able to pick the best from every one and make the best out of every situation.

Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?

They are perfect contrasts and they make each other’s characters shine because they are so different. I did however not always think it all that plausible. The discussions yes, I can see that you can be very different and still have a great friendship, great discussions but I would doubt a man like the Captain would enjoy to play music with the doctor.

Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?

I do belive that in general Aubrey is right. He is a very capable Captain, he knows his business but in this particular instance, he isn’t following his own principles anymore. He has become a fanatic, drive by his ego. Maturin, rightly tries to reason with him but to no avail.

What did you think of the way the French are depicted?

They are shown to be the aggressor and very sneaky too. But, as the end shows, they are also very cunning. I didn’t have too big a problem with that. The French are shown as negative but not as stupid, on the very contrary, it’s because they are so cunning that Captain Aubrey feels challenged.

The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?

Seaman are said to be superstitious and it isn’t surprising. Life on a ship is hard and you are constantly exposed, to your enemies, the weather conditions, nature… It’s a precarious life. As much as they believe in luck, they believe in bad luck. The story of the Jonah is a means to explain why they are running out of luck. They try to catalyze the tensions and pick a scapegoat. It’s very unfair and shows how easily the seamen believe in tales. I thought it was very uncanny.

What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?

That depends on the point of view but I would say, the mission was over and they could have dedicated their time to collecting samples. They were not told to follow the French to the end of the world.

Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?

It was a fantastic idea but I think, no, it wasn’t ethical. It served its purpose. I was wondering if something like that could have happened. Were there rules of warfare? I don’t know.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

I have, as I said, already watched the movie before but had completely forgotten the ending. I was surprised to see that it ended like this. It was satisfying because it showed how clever the enemy was but there is no proper end to the story. I’m meanwhile surprised they didn’t make a sequel  but I’m glad they didn’t. Those sequels often water down a orginal idea. The end also showed that the French Captain was as obsessed as Aubrey himself. These are two worthy opponents.

Here are the links to the answers of others

Novroz (Polychrome Interest)

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander – The Questions

As many of you know, we are doing a double watch along of two movies, the first one being Master & Commander.

Here are the questions should you want to participate.

Of course you do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie and link to my site.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Is Aubrey a good Captain?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?
  • Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?
  • What did you think of the way the French are depicted?
  • The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?
  • What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?
  • Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Tuesday 27 December 2011.

The questions for Talvisota will be published tomorrow.

Waterloo (1970) “Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won”

Waterloo was more than just a movie for me. Watching it meant jumping head first into childhood memories.

“Waterloo, Waterloo, morne plaine…” No, this isn’t the French version of the AbbA song. I am afraid the words are not bound to tell you much. I can still hear my father’s voice drone this part of  Victor Hugo’s famous poem L’Expiation (an endless poem by the way) on Sunday mornings. I said it in my last post, I went through a bit of an obsession with Napoléon as a child and guess I deserved a little punishment and therefore frequently had to listen to the long and never-ending recitation of that poem. Sorry for this little digression… Back to my review.

I haven’t seen this movie before and I must say it was high time. It is a worthy candidate for a place among my Top 20. I loved every minute of it (with the exception of the animal stunts. Being reminded that this a Russian production and the well-being of horses might not have been high on the agenda did NOT help. It is funny how all of a sudden one likes the idea of CGI. I never thought I would ever write such a sacrilegious thing.)

As the title indicates, this is not a Napoléon biopic. It doesn’t show the great man’s life, only a fatal and tragic part of it, the battle of Waterloo. Maybe the best known of all the French battles (apart from Austerlitz) in France.

The movie starts with what has become in French the synonym for something long, endless and wearisome, namely “Les adieux de Fontainebleau” or “The Goodbyes at Fontainebleau” in which Napoléon, before being exiled to Elba,  says goodbye to his troops. He states in the movie that he deplores that he can not say goodby to each and every one of them still it is said that it took hours. After having been defeated on the battlefield he was forced to abdicate and go into exile to the island of Elba.

Rod Steiger manages masterfully to show how emotional Napoléon was. This man was driven by strong emotions and passions. And it seems that the troops loved him for this display of feelings.

He stayed at Elba some ten moths and then returned to Paris where Louis XVIII (Orson Welles) had taken back the throne. The moment when he meets the troops is another highlight in this movie. He wins them back easily and becomes emperor once more.

After this episode he heads the troops and marches towards Belgium to engage the troops of Wellington.

Before the movie takes us to the battlefield it briefly stops in a ballroom in Belgium where Wellington (Christopher Plummer) and his men are introduced.

Two thirds of this movie are dedicated to the battle of Waterloo. I think it is incredibly well done. I liked those costumes and the way we could see the battle formations. There was such a huge difference whether cavalry charged against cavalry or against infantry. The moment when the French cavalry attacks the British infantry is horrible. The horses are shot down one by one. The square battle formations of the infantry made it impossible to win for the attacking cavalry. Like this the horses could be shot down from every angle.

At moments, while I watched this and saw the tactics the two men applied, how they overlooked the battlefield, sent troops from here to there, removed them from somewhere else, I was reminded of chess.

The two great men, Napoléon and Wellington are shown as complete opposites. Naploéon goes through every possible emotional change while Wellington stays poised and self-possessed. While one is of very humble origins, the other is an aristocrat through and through.

We all know the outcome of the battle and when it is over, not even Wellington is unmoved and he says the famous words:

Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won.

I really enjoyed Waterloo. I liked the costumes, the uniforms, the battle formations, Wellington’s poise, Napoléon’s sadness, the composition of the British regiment, the Irish troops with their rosaries and the Scottish with the bagpipes.

I would recommend this movie to every one who is interested in French and British history and the Napoleonic Wars, who likes costumes and has an interest in miltary tactics of the time.

Movies on the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815): A List

I watched the Hornblower series last year and enjoyed it very much. I re-watched Master & Commander and thought once again that it is really a good movie. Finally I discovered the Sharpe series with Sean Bean and I like it a great deal as well (at least those I have seen so far). Considering that they are all based on the Napoleonic Wars, I thought it might be high time to see what else there is. I found quite a few movies, some I have seen a long time ago, like Abel Gance’s Napoléon, and others that I still would like to watch. I also included movies on the man himself as I figured there will not be many biopics on Napoléon leaving out the wars. When I was a child I went through a bit of a Napoléon obsession and remember contemplating his wax figure at the Musée Grévin in Paris with awe. I should have been awed that even as a ten-year old child I wasn’t that much smaller. There are quite a lot of German and French productions of the topic. I did include them although not all of them have been subtitled.

The movies that I would like to watch soon are Waterloo with Rod Steiger, the mini-series Napoléon and Ridley Scott’s The Duellists.

As ususal any comments, additions or ratings are highly welcome. The Duellists is a movie I wouldn’t have known of, if it hadn’t been for Guy Savage‘s recommendation in a comment.