In medieval France, a knight challenges a squire to
a duel when his wife accuses the squire of raping her.
The Last Duel (2021)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer,
Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Alex Lawther, Martin Csokas
Based on the book by Eric Jager
If there's one constant throughout all of human history, it is the pigheadedness of men and the systemic misogyny that women have always dealt with because of it. This is a story that doesn't feel like it happened almost seven centuries ago, and that's really fucking sad. You could take this exact scenario and drop it into any decade of human civilization on any continent, and all that would change is the manner in which the duel is fought. To the men in charge (and it's always men in charge), the rape of a woman is not a crime against the woman. It is a crime against a man's property and a slight against his name. That's a real quote from the clergy in the film, and it represents this brilliantly-acted but clumsily-told film all too well.
In the late 1300's, an ambitious French knight named Jean de Carrouges (Damon) married a noblewoman from a wealthy family. Her name was Marguerite (Comer), and they weren't very happy. It's heavily implied that he was sterile, and she took the blame for being unable to produce an heir. Carrouges has a rivalry with a squire named Jacques Le Gris (Driver), who is madly in love with Marguerite and doesn't bother hiding it. We get to see the events of the film unfold from the perspective of these three characters in three separate chapters of the film, kinda like Rashomon. It works well, though we do see the same moments multiple times. The rape from Marguerite's perspective is horrifying, and the rape from Le Gris's perspective isn't a rape at all. He says he seduced her. Of course, the accusation leads to a trial by combat, but not in her name or even for her to receive justice. It's for Carrouges's wounded pride.
The Last Duel is a gorgeous half war, half drama historical epic. Granted, it's a bit too long and really takes it's time getting to the point. But seeing Ben Affleck with a bleached blonde haircut speaking in a British accent (as all medieval Frenchmen did) and hosting orgies makes up for it. Also, the battle scenes are remarkable and reminiscent of Gladiator, another Scott production. The performances make up for the pace of the film, and the subject matter is timely and important.