The Last Duel

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

The Last Duel is a film in three acts, each act by a different writer, with a different lead character perspective revolving around two main events. That of a rape, and that of the titular duel. Matt Damon alone serves as both main character and writer for his segment. He plays Jean de Carrouges, a squire to Ben Affleck’s Count Pierre. Act one begins with a stirring exquisitely shot visceral battle at a river where Jean leads a charge of men into shallow water on horseback to drive back their foes. During this encounter he saves Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris from death, one of many matters to be disputed in the subsequent acts. Then time jumps as do locations. Jean recounts hist defeat to his count, and one day Le Gris who happens to be his dead child’s godfather turns up requesting taxes for the count. Jean cannot pay his full debt and he goes to battle in the north where he meets a woman named Marguerite de Carrouges played by acting phenom Jodie Comer. Eventually as expected the two wed, and Jean convinces Marguerite’s father to include a particular parcel of land in his dowry to Jean, a parcel that happens to be Marguerite’s favorite from her childhood. Events come to pass and eventually Jean departs for Paris, while he’s gone we learn that Jacques broke in and raped Marguerite leading to Jean’s demand of a trial by God, another name within the film and ostensibly of the time for a “duel”, to the death.

The second act’s main perspective and thus character is that of Jacques Le Gris played by Adam Driver. A squire who according to his recollection keeps Jean from killing himself at the river battle, that quickly rises up the ranks and gains his master Count Pierre’s ear. The segment itself is written by Affleck, witty and subjectively grotesque as it is convincing. Affleck creates a villainous lead that believes himself not only the center of universe outside of his master’s calls, but also a decider of emotions for those “less” than he. Driver is convicted and convincing as ever, speaking latin, playing court, and shaking down taxpayers. We see his own recollection of events against Jean’s; the locations and people are the same, but events and dialogue shift. Jacques naturally is heroically at the center of how he sees it. One day he meets Marguerite and after Jean insists she kiss Jacques to show there’s no ill will between the two and Jacques becomes enamored. We see the act of how Jacques saw his actions, which are grotesque at minimum, his lack of self awareness, his disregard toward Marguerite even in his presentation of recollection is beyond harrowing. It is in this segment that we see Jacques ask Count Pierre what to do, to which Pierre says, “Deny it. It never happened. Deny.” It’s not quite possible to put in this review how that segment hits, it’s bigger than an explanation can offer, the looks and feelings cast on Driver’s face in the scene breathe toward something that despite his awfulness could lead to something like redeeming, but then all at once, it’s snuffed out. This segment too ends at a trial.

The third act is written by renowned filmmaker and writer Nicole Holofcener. Who deftly, stoically, and openly lays bare not only the weaknesses and insecurities of the men in the first and second act but the pride, the ego, and the hurt that anyone involved in a rape may bear. With her segment the film graduates out of a sanctimonious competition between insecure warriors to a larger gradation of achievement. Heightening rather than underscoring Damon and Affleck’s segments before. She, Damon, and Affleck through the talented cast and crew but especially Scott and his talented DP Dariusz Wolski use the events of the past and how they’re presented to talk about the here and the now. Marguerite’s act is the most beautifully presented, the most emotional, and the most harrowing. It’s also the most impactful, so rather than recount and dig into the nuances of her segment I’ll leave it to you to experience.

There’s been a lot of discussion about when and if the definitive Times Up/Me Too film will turn up since 2018, and while I don’t think we’ll ever really know the definitive film of a large social movement or moment until time passes The Last Duel seems to be the most eloquent, stylized, and cinematic presentation of the difficulties that come from grappling with it in the open. The Last Duel is a film that simply cannot be accurately discussed in any capacity without mentioning rape or more specifically the rape that the whole film hinges around. Which may seem ugly, untoward, or disgusting to some, but by elevating the subject and the word “rape” itself into any conversation about the piece of art itself it’s forcing these hard conversations. The Last Duel itself doesn’t end in a way that asserts that one openly declaring publicly what happened to you is the right thing to do but rather expresses the truth of those emotions one may have. And the various reasons a woman may or may not make that personal choice. Being unable to discuss a film at all without mentioning rape hasn’t been done in this capacity since Irreversible and with Scott’s prolific filmmaking sincerity and Holofcener’s clear hearted voice at the center of the film I think you’ll find you’re better for watching it. I don’t suspect anyone thought that from the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, etc, we’d be getting a powerful, emotional, and sincere presentation about the subject matter of the Times Up/Me Too movement. But we did, and we’re all the better for it.

The Last Duel Trailer

The Last Duel is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fantasia & New York Asian Film Festival Review: Junk Head

Written by Patrick Hao

64/100

If filmmaking is a labor of love, then animation is the 12 Labors of Hercules. It’s a long, lugubrious, and isolating process. For director Takahide Hori, the stop motion animated film Junk Head is one such labor of love.

In a way, the story of the making of Junk Head is much more interesting than the actual film itself. In 2009. Hori, an interior decorator by trade, decided to convert his factory into a movie studio. Like the pioneers of cinema, Hori never intended to make a stop motion film. He discovered that the easiest way for him to make a movie was to simulate movement by taking photos and moving them like a flipbook. The original Junk Head I was finished in October 2013, a 30-minute short film released on YouTube. Encouraged by the positive reception, including from director Guillermo Del Toro, Hori decided to expand on his short film resulting, seven years later, in the 99-minute epic that is Junk Head.

New York Asian Film Festival 2021

Its incredible to see the results of this one-man production. The credits, which shows some time lapse footage of the over 140,000 photographs it took to make the film, just lists Hori’s name repeatedly. Junk Head is without a doubt the singular vision of one artist, which explains the oddness of the final project. The film has the visual panache of the Quay Brothers with the humor of an Aardman film.

The sci-fi epic takes place in a dystopian future in which humans have discovered immortality through genetic engineering, losing the ability to reproduce in the process. They also created clones to serve as a workforce these clones rebelled and descended into the catacombs of the earth, creating a subterranean society. To discover reproductivity, the above ground society sends down a volunteer to the subterranean world. In the process, the volunteer loses all memory and body. The subterranean race receives this new invader warmly, calling him God, and placing his head onto a body. From there, the film takes us on a journey through the monsters, robots, and world of the underground.

This is not the type of movie where the plot matters very much. It is all about characters and designs. The mole men are styled like steampunk mine workers. They speak in an indecipherable language – a mix of phlegm and gibberish. The monsters are these weird clay creatures that are reminiscent of H.R. Giger with the heads of the Alien form Alien, long bodies, and phallic tails.

To say that the Hori wears his influences on his sleeve is an understatement. Each set piece radiates love and passion for anime and movies. Little tributes to The Matrix, Brazil, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and many other pieces are evident throughout.

In order to reach the 99-minute mark, the Junk Head does tend to repeat itself. The film almost has a video game structure in which God finds himself in a new location and must escape the monster of that setting – rinse, repeat. But the visuals are so striking it is hard not to just be engaged with the mastery of the art. In a way the film may be better suited as an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art than it does for the movie theater.

But, in a film landscape in which movies feel more and more like it is being molded from a pre-formed template, we need more movies like Junk Head. Hori took his boundless creativity, passion, and love to create a singular piece that could have only come from him. The work is onscreen, and that should be celebrated.

Junk Head Trailer

You can purchase a ticket to see Junk Head in Canada from Fantasia Film Festival and in the United States of America at New York Asian Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Interview: Sophia Banks Talks About Directing Short Film ‘Proxy’

Sophia Banks’s short film Proxy focuses on a woman who gets more than she bargained for in her life of work. Proxy has screened at multiple the Oscar-qualifying film festivals including HollyShorts Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Louisville International Festival of Film, and Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.  

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Last year, some good friends of mine, Dominick Joseph Luna and Emma Booth and I were chatting and realized that they were coming to LA where I was living at the time. We always had wanted to do a project together but never found the right time or place to do it. Dominick had some great concepts he pulled from research and one of them was based off of the idea of boutique services they’re offering in Japan right now: “people for hire” that could stand in for someone to fulfill a role. I loved the idea and we developed the story. Once they arrived in LA we decided to just go for it. We put together the team in a few short weeks and shot it over the last day of February and the first day of March, just before the lockdown hit. We were really fortunate to have gotten it done just before because we were able to complete the editing and the rest of post production remotely, which worked really well.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Funny enough, there weren’t too many changes that we made. We really stuck with the original vision, which was to showcase Victoria (Booth) as this woman who is struggling with her own disconnect and internal turmoil as she is being beaten down emotionally and physically through these increasingly terrifying scenarios. 

Performance is a big theme throughout your film, especially with regards to gender, sex, and the intersection of those. Would you mind talking a bit more about that and how you discuss those ideas in your film?

I think that I always like to touch on those because underlying these stories I like to tell is the underlying idea of “freedom”. In Proxy, Victoria faces the entrapment of a job that she feels obligated to do, put in situations thrown at her that she may or may not agree with — but she has to do it, it is her job after all. The journey she goes through is eye opening in that I hope others might take away from it a little semblance of what our hero experiences: the heroes own self realization and expression of that truth. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a slightly futuristic world that still needed to feel familiar? Did you ever consider making it “harder” sci-fi?

It is interesting because for my first short film Unregistered, I really heavily designed and created an entirely futuristic world. We have over 300 special effects in that short film that I put a lot of thought into it. It was unmistakable that it was in fact set in a future Dystopian society. 

For Proxy, we wanted it to be more grounded — almost impossible to know whether this was 10 years or 50 years into the future. I think it adds to that ominous factor. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I partly see Proxy as a cautionary tale: the more connected we are the further we grow apart in reality. That is what social media is to me. I also see it as a message of rebellion of what society has seen as the “new norm”. We are so afraid to go against the grain, we are comfortable with a routine. Sometimes we need to take a step back and perhaps come to terms with the fact that the “norm” may not be the best for us. 

What are your top three sci-fi films from the last decade or so?

Hard question! I would have to lean into the “or so” since I am a huge fan of the classic Sci-Fi such as Blade Runner, (2001: A) Space Odyssey and The Thing as well as Alien. I like the darker side of sci-fi for sure.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Proxy or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website