The Duelists (Shout! Factory, 1/29) may be the best Ridley Scott film you’ve never heard of. Scott’s debut feature, which came out in 1977 years before his 1984 Big Brother crazy Apple Super Bowl Spot, features Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as officers in Napoleon era France who fight a series of duels over silly honor for several years. They inflict wounds, both psychologically and otherwise, but they never mange to kill each other. Considering that Scott followed The Duelists with Alien and Blade Runner constitutes one of the biggest one-two-three punches in modern cinema by a beginning filmmaker.
The Duelists should be noted as an above average action film although most of the blows are between two men with nations at war being a kind of background character. Scott set the standards for his visual opulence with The Duelists. Literally every confrontation takes place amongst a breathtaking view of rural Europe. Endless valleys, mountain peaks and snow-drenched forests form the setting. A final shot high on a peak overlooking untold pastoral beauty has the happenstance of the sun breaking out of the distant clouds moments before sunset. Scott achieved with this low budget production phenomenal results that he’d later create albeit with gazillion dollar studio films. Extras include Scott’s commentary and a lengthy interview between Kevin Reynolds (another above average action helmer) and Scott where they break down the various scenes in the movie.
Sometimes you wonder how a foreign film of exceptional quality goes ignored by domestic distribution. Such is the case with Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies (MPI, 2/5). Canet’s follow-up to Tell No One (one of the best French films ever), LWL has been pegged as a Gallic The Big Chill although that’s a loose comparison at best meant to suggest genre more than plot twists. Fact is The Big Chill had many big actors who were early-on in their career whereas LWL is a star studded romp with the biggest names in contempo French cinema, all carpeted with a series of recognizable Anglo rock songs. Jean Dujardin, Marion Cotillard, François Cluzet, Benoît Magimel, Louise Monot, Gilies Lellouche – all familiar names if you watch French films regularly – form the ensemble cast. The friends who vacation together yearly take pause when one of them has a serious motor accident. As a result the vacation becomes an introspective vigil. I know, sounds exciting; it is in the way the best directed films are.
Also worth checking out: Birders: The Central Park Effect (Music Box, 1/22) documents a group of bird watchers in Central Park over the period of a year. To Catch A Dollar: Muhammad Yunus Banks on America (Shout! Factory, 1/29) goes behind the scenes on the Nobel Peace Prize winning economist as he institutes a program of loans for low-income neighborhoods (Grameen Bank). And for something totally different A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (Virgil Films, 2/12) lays bare through vintage clips and new animation the life story of Chapman who died in 1989. The film contains a lot of sexual references that are as hilarious, outrageous and true to human nature as one would expect from the irreverent comedy troupe. Eric Idle appears to be the one Python not involved with the project. Lengthy extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette.
- Michael Bergeron