8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A visually spellbinding little gem!,
This review is from: Duellists, The [DVD]  (DVD)
For such a marvellously constructed film, it's hard to believe this was Ridley Scott's very first feature length work! It's also quite surprising to realise that, for someone that was described as being uncomfortable around actors when "Alien" was in production, here Scott managed to get his whole cast to give more than capable performances and delivered his trademark dazzling visuals with overwhelming results.
"The Duellists", based on Joseph Conrad's story 'The Duel', deals with man's obsession that turns into folly, namely Feraud's intolerant arrogance that turns him into a loose cannon, whose compulsions overpower his life and of those around him - he shares some similarities with Mr. Kurtz in Conrad's better known novella 'Heart of Darkness.' Yet ultimately it's the beautiful visuals that grabbed my attention - many said that the film was too beautiful at the time of its original release! Ridley Scott was heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" during filming, and admits that, like Kubrick had for "Lyndon", he also took the work of painters as references to create his superbly detailed images in the commentary track. Curiously, Kubrick's work was so influential to Scott that he went as far as to cast Gay Hamilton, who had played Nora Brady in "Barry Lyndon", in a small role as one of Feraud's mistresses.
Keith Carradine as D'Hubert renders a quiet and understated performance, and Harvey Keitel is excellent as the intense and almost impossibly obsessive and maniacal Feraud. Funnily enough, their native accents never bothered me as I felt they weren't obtrusive in delivering their very well written dialogue, plus they didn't affect the incredible atmosphere set up by the director for the entire length of the story.
Another amazing thing to realise is that this movie was made on a low budget of only 900.000 dollars, if you look at all the depth and richness Scott was able to convey - to such a degree that I'd describe it as an epic in miniature scale! "The Duellists" won the Special Jury Prize at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival (for Best Debut Film), however it was poorly distributed in the United States and remains the least seen of Ridley Scott's films. I hope this DVD corrects that handicap and the extras are actually quite good. The 'Duelling Directors' featurette is most interesting as it's interspersed with footage of actual location shooting in France, of Scott receiving the award and being interviewed alongside producer David Puttnam in Cannes. Scott's first short, 1965's 'Boy and a Bicycle', is a revelation in that it shows not only his early visual motifs, but also a path he could've taken and avoided in the future as Scott started working on shooting commercials. Indeed, everything in this short is reminiscent of the kitchen sink dramas that were prevalent in British cinema in the early 60s, noticeable in the films of Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson, emphasizing the realities of working classes in the poorer industrial areas in the North of England.
Go for it as this is one of the best, and certainly most beautiful, period dramas I've ever seen.