COMPLEX BONDS PUT TO THE TEST

THE LAST DUEL(2021)

Ridley Scott’s latest feature stays true to his template of earnestly dealing with a period piece, this time  involving the politics of honour and its gender binaries.

THE LAST DUEL is a powerful work because it looks at timeless concerns regarding female autonomy in matters of the mind and body, with a passionate commitment to truth.

Over centuries, gender binaries have been reconstructed and redefined to come back to a place of instability again. This screenplay puts three people at the centre of a personal storm and gives them individual perspectives. It works because the disingenuity of the perpetrator is held transparently while the courage of the survivor to speak up and seek justice is absolutely riveting. It’s drawn from historical facts in medieval France.

This three act structure also gives it the urgency of how the case is approached by law, holding up a very contemporary mirror to politics of identity, shame and reason. Kudos to the principal cast, the staging of the conflict by reiterating key events and its Rashomon effect in coming to the bare truth.



One woman is opposed by law per se, is expected to keep an ordeal to herself even as her spouse is after his honour in the name of vindictive tempers and other women in her life offer her no empathy. It’s such a compelling film to let us know how humanity essentially doesn’t change in spirit over centuries.

Jodie Comer’s haunting central performance lasts till the very end even as a victory in the titular last duel marks her truth as one ‘divined by God’. The victory really isn’t hers when her spoken truth, communicated to others in earnest detail, means nothing as compared to a match of combat among two men. It never forgets how her honour is far from the truth of the matter, for a world blinded by patriarchy.

***

LUCY AND DESI(2022)

Nothing that any pop culture afficianado or fans of Desilu- the iconic team behind comedy gold- don’t already know about is sprinkled here in this documentary, directed by another comedic great Amy Poehler.

What makes it such a warm tribute is how it dissects the bond between the two titans, co-stars, business partners and spouses as one of eternal charm. One that time, changing moods or even divorce couldn’t really erase.

The premium should be on the word ‘partnership’ here and even though Lucille Ball is almost always the celebrated one, Desi Arnaz is reinstated as a trendsetting studio head who battled racism on his own part. Together, they are perfectly aligned to each other’s sensibilities. Individually too, they have strong instincts and creative acumen to spare.



In a year and a half period during which my discovery of I LOVE LUCY, THE LUCY SHOW and BEING THE RICARDOS has put them on a pedestal, LUCY AND DESI gives this classic pair another well-deserved tip of the hat without discounting their co-stars, writers and family members who all make up an indelible fabric. In fact, the collective viewing experience actually helped me appreciate this non-fiction retelling even more.

So watch this newly arrived title now on Amazon Prime Video.

***

FEAST(2021)

Dutch filmmaker Tim Leyendekker positions FEAST as a reflexive examination of all that is wrong with the idea of desire and physical gratification in our modern world.

The seemingly single-minded pursuit of sex leads to a real-life scandal in Netherlands. More shocking is the knowledge that three men actually used infected blood to endanger nearly a dozen other lives in the transactional set-up. What is striking is that all victims here are men. Which puts the onus on treating victims without a gender lens and taking their trauma seriously, not letting social norms get in the way.

It’s chapterised and never uses sensationalism to drive its point home. Beginning with an official putting on gloves and picking out each item retrieved from the site of these crimes, time is of the essence here. The camera rolls and captures details of the case, to unravel its many layers. Or they can be taken as offshoots of an investigation. 



Actors recreate conversations of these three men at the helm while also watching the reel and reflecting on their actions. It’s definitely a meta moment, blurring lines between fact and fiction. Then there’s an interview each with a particular victim and with one of the accused respectively. Disturbing psychological aspects tumble out while sordid details of seeking closure for one’s unfulfilled desires juxtapose with still bodies on lakeside and parks and a scientist dealing with plants talks candidly about the nature of blood transfusions and viruses.

A police interrogation involving a victim further leads us to the conclusion that judgements elude none, gender no bar. Also that the politics of sexuality can be crooked and full of empathy but never at the same time. 

FEAST hence presents multiple perspectives, avoiding titillation and hysteria for quiet moments of observation regarding human behaviour. Shot in silhouettes, natural light or with hazy shots of bodies running parallel to a narrative of physical violation, it has a stark quality to it that ultimately becomes haunting. Cautionary. Deeply affecting.

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