From the Grand Army to the Hundred Years War via the Old Testament and the Crusades, the director of Gladiator oscillates between tradition and revision.
The Last Duel, the new event film of Ridley scott (currently in theaters), is adapted from a true story. It tells how two men (Matt Damon and Adam Driver) fight to the death in 1386 to establish the outcome of a trial. Has Marguerite been raped? Did she lie? God will arm the overcomer’s arm. A new “film in costume” for Sir Ridley, which is fully in line with his favorite obsessions. Small historical guide.
The imagined story
A richly ornamented cross floats like a mirage at the head of an army of crusaders. This plan of Kingdom of Heaven captures what first makes history in Ridley Scott’s cinema, the illustrator’s visual pleasure: the sumptuous and disproportionate reconstruction of an imaginary world. The director, originally a cartoonist, puts his visions nourished as well by the science fiction of the magazine Screaming metal than by orientalist and pompous paintings (Gladiator was born from the vision of the painting Pollice back by the painter Gérôme). The Last Duel Even though it was shot in “real” Périgord castles, 14th century France is just as fake as the Rome of Commodus’ reign, or Los Angeles in 2019. The issue is not to make a documentary but to imagine a vision: in The Last Duel, it is precisely a question of deconstructing the heroic and ideal image of medieval warriors.
Gladiator and its pitched battle evoking a Roman version of We have to save the soldier Ryan, The fall of the Black Falcon and the massacre of its marines in the labyrinth of Mogadishu, the geopolitics of the massacres of Kingdom of Heaven… As many, a lot filmmakers before him, Scott sees the battle as one of the key moments in history, an always decisive turning point where the forces that animate the world collide. The Last Duel is precisely a novelty: the battles, always spectacular, are an integral part of the life of the medieval nobles that he films, in the same way as the management of the horses of their domain or of the life of court. Which reconnects with one of Ridley’s favorite and underground themes, namely the portrait of killers that society allows to slaughter. A theme present from The Duelists, where we spend our time gnawing behind the scenes of the Napoleonic gesture and the defeats of the Grand Army.
The Last Duel is a new high for Ridley Scott [critique]
History without God
No real place for God with Sir Ridley. Without going so far as to summon Prometheus (and its insane intro where a muscular alien like a marble by Michelangelo creates humanity), just see the rest. A Christian colonization in the form of genocide in 1492 (which opens at the stake of the heretics), an impostor who poses as a legendary hero to give the people his Magna Carta (you recognized the underrated Robin Hood), and finally the prophet Moses who looks like a zinzin who hears voices in his head (Exodus, of course, we encourage you to review) … To finish on this Last duel where everything revolves around a “judgment of God” where the Lord will favor the strongest and the most skilful warrior in a judicial duel to the death.
The revised story
The Scottian view of the past oscillates between tradition and revision. Yes Gladiator was part of the tradition of the traditional Hollywood peplum (with Spartacus and The Fall of the Roman Empire in models), the film gave it a radically new strength and made it look like “swords and sandals” (that’s how we say peplum in English: sword-and-sandals) of its pasteboard imagery. Without denying the Yankee warrior codes, with its hero-soldiers and anonymous and dehumanized enemies, The fall of the Black Falcon staged a great defeat of the American army. More a revision of the genre than of History. Although heroic at will, Kingdom of Heaven showed the Crusaders as bandits without faith and law and Saladin as a great statesman – four years after the fall of the towers. The Last Duel is also not a chivalrous tale full of honor and romance, but the brutal and boneless tale of the rape of a woman by two men (one of whom is her husband). In other words, we are not at the Round Table.
The Last Duel, with Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, currently in theaters. Trailer :