I'll preface my rambling post by saying that I agree with everything that @djw180 said in his review, including it being Ridley Scott's best film, although there are a few (Alien, Blade Runner) that I'd consider very close. You wouldn't know it was his first film from the steady way he directed this film, lots of long establishing shots showing you the gorgeous scenery, not being afraid to let the scenes breathe, giving the audience time to take it all in.
The two leads are also excellent, in particular Keitel as the fiery Feraud. This was only his second lead performance, his first being in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets from 1973, but in that film he was pretty much overshadowed by hot young newcomer, Robert DeNiro. Here, he really shows that he is capable of leading a movie and really putting his stamp on things. Keith Carradine is also great as d'Hubert, his weary, reluctant frustration growing with every encounter with Feraud.
Finally, the cinematography and lighting is beautiful in this film. I don't know if they used any artificial light in this film, as every scene has a really natural look to it, but either way it's really impressive. Like I said earlier, this film was inspired by Barry Lyndon, which had a very painterly look to it, but doing some reading after watching this film, you really see how carefully planned this film was. I particularly loved the last shot of the film, which was a very accurate recreation of this famous painting of Napoleon.
On to the wall of text.
The Duellists is a 1977 film directed by Ridley Scott with cinematography by Frank Tidy and was written by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, based on the short story The Duel, by Joseph Conrad.
The film starts with a black screen, then classical music playing over very simple titles, white on black. This sets the tone of the film nicely. Then we get some narration telling us "The duellist demands satisfaction", giving us the theme of the film right away. I like that the narrator (Stacy Keach) is just that, a narrator. We're not hearing the opinions of a character from the film, or anyone who might have any bias. This gives weight to what they say as we know they have no reason to deceive us. This also gives a literary feel to the film, as if the narrator is the author of a book recounting the history of these events, much like the Conrad short story is based on real events. The film is also divided up into chapters, like a book, by title cards at several points throughout the film, the first at the very start, telling us where, and when, we are.
Long still takes of gorgeous pastoral scenes. Lush fields rolling off into the distance under clear blue skies. A cute little girl herding a gaggle of geese down a winding country road. This peaceful opening montage is abruptly interrupted by a soldier appearing suddenly from out a hedgerow to a quick burst of military drums. This is a startle after the quiet start, and puts us on edge, wondering why this guy is here.
We then get a shot of two men stood in a misty field, ready to duel. This shot is framed like a painting, which I'll be saying a lot, and it really lingers, like you're stood in a museum absorbing every detail of a masterwork of the era. This tension is increased by then cutting between close ups of the two duellists, and this is the first we see of Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel). He looks calm and composed in this moment before the duel, like he belongs there. This is in contrast to his opponent, who is sweating and looks nervous. The fight starts suddenly, without any music. The only sound we get is the clang of the swords and the animal noises of the nearby farmyard, imitating the animalistic grunting of Feraud as he thrusts and slashes. The direction also changes during this duel. Before the camera had been steady and distant, but here we're right over Feraud's shoulder, moving with him, putting us right in the duel.
Feraud thrusts, and skewers his opponent through the side, a violent sting of strings accompanying the bloodshed. The camera then withdraws from the fight, becoming distant once again, as we watch Feraud throw up his hands and proclaim "la!" almost in frustration, even though he has won. He's not satisfied with his victory, but he'll continually demand it.
Then we cut to a lushly decorated, beautifully lit hall. The use of shadows in the interior scenes, and how underlit they seem (underlit in a good way, I'm not saying it as a criticism here) makes me think they only used natural lighting for this film, as it looks like as if it's actually lit just by candlelight.
Like the exterior scenes, the interiors in this film are shot with a painter's eye, the lighting, composition, the costumes, and the set dressing are all so reminiscent of late 18th/early 19th century art. In this hall we see an angry General Treillard (Robert Stephens), and he is angry at Feraud. It turns out that the guy Feraud just shanked is the nephew of some mayor. He wants Feraud arrested, and so sends one of his Lieutenants, Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) to give that message to Feraud.
d'Hubert sets off to find Feraud, and we see him walking the streets of Strasbourg. I like that you can see, through the costumes, the difference between d'Hubert and the common people in the streets, highlighting the disparity between the rich and poor that eventually led to the French Revolution. He learns that Feraud is with Madame de Lionne, so goes to deliver his message.
Madame de Lionne's parlour is another lushly decorated set with gorgeous lighting. Everyone is stood around the room, very still, listening to a singer. This stillness, reflected in the stillness of the camera, makes it seem like they are all posing for a portrait. After the singer has finished, d'Hubert approaches Feraud, who is talking to Madame de Lionne. d'Hubert asks the Madame to excuse Feraud, which is taken immediately as an insult, and then delivers the general's message, which is taken as a further insult. Feraud has clearly never heard that you don't shoot the messenger.
I loved the moment when Feraud asks why he is being arrested, and after being told that is was for duelling that morning he just gives a look that says "so what?" This casual approach to violence is highlighted by d'Hubert telling him "you make duelling sound like a pastime". They continue their argument as they walk through the streets back to Feraud's apartment. You can really see the differences in their characters from the way they walk. Feraud strides almost bow-legged, like John Wayne, all bravado, while d'Hubert walks with composure, fully upright.
Back at his house, Feraud is getting more hot tempered with d'Hubert, eventually challenging him to a duel. d'Hubert calls this stupid, as he has literally just been arrested for duelling, but d'Hubert just encourages his behaviour by accepting. This is something that he does throughout this film, giving Feraud what he wants, right up until the last scene.
We then get their first duel. Feraud is full of confidence here, his blood is up from his victory earlier that morning. d'Hubert looks every part the reluctant participant. After the first clash Feraud spits on the ground, showing his contempt for d'Hubert. Feraud throws d'Hubert into a darkened doorway. I love the shot here of d'Hubert in the shadows, almost totally obscured. Feraud lunges at d'Hubert, who strikes from the shadows even quicker, and cuts Feraud across his arm.
His satisfaction at his victory, and our satisfaction at seeing it, is cut short by Feraud's mistress attacking him from behind, and we get an abrupt cut to the next scene, leaving the first duel inconclusive, for both participants and audience.
The next scene opens with a close up of some fruit and wine on a table, looking like a still life. The peace and quiet of this scene is a nice juxtaposition from the aggression of the last scene, especially when the cut is so sudden. We slowly pan out to reveal the entire room, messy, with a man laid on the bed playing the flute, giving a very bohemian feel to the set. This is a contrast to the military orderliness or formal sterility of a lot of the rest of the film, and makes the place feel very welcoming. This is matched by the jovial friendliness of the flautist, who is Dr. Jacquin (Tom Conti) army surgeon and d'Hubert's old chum.
I really liked the chemistry between these two, and would have liked to have seen more of Jacquin throughout the film, as I felt like they had a really genuine friendship. I liked how, when asking d'Hubert about the reason for their duel, which d'Hubert himself doesn't even know, he says "cause of quarrel, obscure", like he's trying to diagnose the situation according to his medical training.
We then see d'Hubert getting dressed down by the general for getting into a duel with Feraud. I like how during this scene he is getting a shave (from Pete Postlethwaite), but is so angry with d'Hubert that he doesn't want to wait until he's done to shout at him. d'Hubert then retreats back to the warm, friendly comfort of Jacquin's quarters, where the good doctor tells him how to stay away from Feraud, "keep away from him, keep ahead of him, and put your trust in Bonaparte". I like d'Hubert's response to this of just laughing, like he knows that it won't be that easy.
The scene ends and we're now outside with a close up on their window. This slowly pulls out to reveal Feraud in the courtyard outside, haunting d'Hubert. A cut to black, and the narrator is back informing us that, after six months, there is now a period of peace, allowing the duel to continue.
We also get another title card, Augsburg 1801. The second chapter has started.
The first thing we see is Feraud engaged in an arm wrestling contest with a soldier. Because of the injury sustained in his duel with d'Hubert he loses, showing what a huge impact this has had on his life, and his ego. I liked how he was asking people if his opponent was holding the table during the wrestle, in disbelief that he's actually losing.
Then we're with d'Hubert, who runs into an old flame, Laura (Diana Quick) while in the streets, they flirt in the pouring rain, before a cut to her bedroom, bathed in warm candlelight, as she tells him that although she's engaged to another, it's d'Hubert she wants. The music in this scene is quite melodramatic, but it suits the tone of the film, and the classically romantic way these scenes are shot.
The military drums then kick back in, and we now see d'Hubert inspecting his camp, the cold, washed out light a contrast to the warmth of the previous scene. As he's walking through the camp someone asks for him, and there is a tense spike of quavering strings, indicating bad news. He is asked if he's "acquainted with lieutenant Feraud" telling us, and d'Hubert, that they are now of equal rank and, since France isn't at war, they are able to resume their duel.
The next scene is framed like the first scene where we meet Feraud, a static shot of a field, wooded background, overgrown farmhouse, two men duelling. But this is d'Hubert practising, waiting for Feraud. The fact that he is practising shows that, even though he won the last duel, he's taking this seriously. We stay with this shot as Feraud and his entourage ride up to the camera, dismount, and then walk to middle distance to prepare for the duel. I really love how long this shot goes on for, it really adds to the tension before the fight.
The second duel starts off very still, Feraud has learnt from the last duel and he doesn't want to get too aggressive. I love the way they tentatively touch their swords together at the start, a sinister clang cutting the silence. Then d'Hubert signals to stop, and sneezes, all the while Feraud is stamping around getting impatient. I got a real laugh out of that moment, and it shows that Feraud does respect the rules of combat, waiting for d'Hubert to be ready again.
There's a beautiful moment of stillness from the actors and the camera before the action in this duel, and it makes it feel so much different from the first one. They have one quick exchange and Feraud catches d'Hubert in the side. He exclaims "la!" and throws up his hands again, like the first scene, as d'Hubert walks off. He seems ok at first, but then drops to the ground, wounded.
I like how Feraud offers d'Hubert's sword back to him while he's lying on the ground, urging him to continue, pacing around anxiously whipping his sword through the air while d'Hubert is being tended to. He won't be satisfied if this ends here. Eventually both men's second in command suggest they shake hands and forget about it, but both refuse. Neither has won a duel conclusively.
d'Hubert is then seen in a bath, his wounds being tended to by Laura. There's a long slow zoom into a close two shot which really shows us the pain on his face, and the devotion of Laura as she cares for him, romantic, melodramatic music referring back to their love scene. The wreaths of steam coming off of the bath and swirling around the two of them adds to the warm, intimate feeling. I like her teasing line "you could've got up, you weren't dead" and his reply "I wasn't well". Her dismay at learning that he intends to keep on fighting Feraud for honour's sake is really well played in this scene, and is paid off later in the film.
We fade from this scene to the next, indicating a passage of time, and we see d'Hubert, Laura and another soldier in a fancy restaurant. d'Hubert is being teased about his reputation as a "savage duellist" by the two, but this is interrupted by a deep bassy spike of strings, reminiscent of the Jaws theme, as they see one of Feraud's men in the street outside. d'Hubert refuses to sneak away, saying "why bother? If he wants me he'll find me" showing that he's fully invested in this stupid feud now, and the look on Laura's face shows us that she realises that too.
Cut to d'Hubert getting his sword sharpened in the street, zooming in on the grindstone. A third duel with Feraud is inevitable. This is intercut with a shot of Laura putting her engagement ring back on, she's going to leave d'Hubert. Before she does she asks him to stop, but he tells her "the only way out is to go through with it", and the blank look on her face when she hears this, and realises that she's lost him, is kind of heartbreaking.
Out of desperation she goes straight to Feraud, but after learning that she lives with d'Hubert they get into a tense conversation, with her eventually telling him that she knows why he duels with him, saying "you feed your spite on him with no more sense than a nasty bloodsucking louse". I absolutely love that line, as I think it describes perfectly why he acts the way he does, and it's delivered perfectly. He gets angry and asks why she's even there, with her replying "I came to take a look at you". He shouts "look!", and she does, before leaving. She had to see for herself, but even with that short meeting she knows that she can't convince Feraud to stop as much as she can convince d'Hubert.
We then see her in bed, d'Hubert sat next to her writing some papers. She is talking about the man who asked her to marry him, and d'Hubert is so uninterested. He even tells her to "marry him", at which she just turns away from him, toward the shadows. There's then a great one shot following her as she walks up a staircase and knocks on the door. The way she's stalking up the stairs and the voyeuristic nature of the shot really makes it feel like she's hunting someone.
The door is answered by a suspiciously sweaty man, breathing heavily. She asks for d'Hubert, but is told he's "not 'ere" and the door is unceremoniously shut in her face. It is then revealed that he is there, taking duelling lessons. This has now become his obsession as much as Feraud's now.
Laura is now visiting the classic trope, old hag fortune tellers. I like how her face is framed surrounded by shadow, reflecting her doubts as she asks the question "do I leave them both behind?" I like how she asks that instead of just asking if she should leave d'Hubert behind. She already knows that they're bound too closely together already.
We see her with d'Hubert's sword and a pot of red paint before cutting to d'Hubert entering the same room later, but now it is darkened now that Laura is gone. We pan across the darkness to his sword, written on it "goodbye". He takes a second to look at it, and he almost looks regretful, but he has to get rid of that to beat Feraud. We then get a close up of him wiping the word off of his sword, with the sound of their next duel coming in over this shot, linking the two events, Laura leaving and his fight with Feraud, together.
The next scene starts right in the middle of their third duel. They are both bloodied and battered, clothes torn, covered in dirt and looking exhausted. I like how this duel is being fought in what looks like a basement, just some windows high up near the ceiling letting in light, after the first two were fought outdoors. It makes this one feel more dangerous. The way they're fighting feels more dangerous too. They're no longer feeling each other out and looking for their chance, they're just swinging and slashing as hard as they can. There's a real desperation to this fight. It's like they know that there needs to be a winner, or this will go on forever. Near the end d'Hubert gets a chunk sliced off of his arm, and it looked a lot more gnarly than I was expecting. This doesn't stop them though, and they continue fighting until they have to resort to just grappling each other to the ground.
At this point, both their men jump in to pull them apart. They all know this duel is over, a bloody fight to a no-contest. It's kind of pathetic the way they're still limply flailing at each other on the ground, and this is reflected in the camera movement as we pull back and pan away, leaving them to it, almost looking away in shame. I love the end of this scene, panning all the way to a kid who's spectating through a window, who asks his dad "are they dying?"
We cut to d'Hubert sat next to some grand doors, looking like he's waiting outside the principal's office. He limps in after the general for his second dressing down. At one point he is asked about Feraud and says "I cannot fight a man three times and then tell tales on him", showing his respect for his enemy, a respect which has kept him trapped in this pointless feud. He then earns a promotion to captain, which he looks upset by, as this means he cannot fight Feraud anymore, as they are not of equal rank.
There is then another title card, signalling the start of chapter three: Lubeck 1806.
We see d'Hubert walking through the streets and into a pub to a lively piece of music, reflecting his happy appearance. He is no longer limping, and seems in good spirits. He has had enough time away from Feraud to get over it. He finds his friend in the pub, who informs him that Feraud is not only in town, he's in the pub across the room. d'Hubert looks shook by this. It seems like he was happy here, and he's seeing that all fall away because he knows Feraud will ruin all that. He also learns that he is also a captain, so they can duel.
The next scene d'Hubert is walking on a dim, foggy day, matching his mood. He is stopped by Laura, now a widow. She wants to get back with him, but he is too preoccupied with Feraud to notice, or care. She also sees that he still has the same obsession, and that he is a lost cause. The melodramatic music returns here, but with a more melancholy melody, signifying the end of their relationship.
Next we see d'Hubert talking to one of his men, being informed that the next duel will be on horseback "as compliment to the cavalry". He is told "you must think of yourself as fighting on parade". This is where d'Hubert realises that his feud with Feraud has become a spectacle. He also realises that he is not as fanatical as Feraud, and fears that he will be killed. He says sarcastically "I'm going to be killed, responsibly, on horseback, as compliment to the cavalry".
Riding in on horseback with a couple of his men, one of them says to d'Hubert "it should be well attended" like this has devolved from a duel between two men, to a spectator sport. I love how Feraud has a table and a spread set out and is having lunch while waiting for d'Hubert. The misty, autumnal woods is an excellent setting for this duel, adding a forboding atmosphere, reinforcing d'Hubert's doubts about his ability.
We see the two men on horseback preparing to charge. Feraud is pacing his horse back and forth, imitating the way he paces himself, while d'Hubert is sat still on his horse. We zoom in slowly on his face and he looks nervous, in contrast to Feraud. The music slowly builds tension, high strings coming in as they start to advance. d'Hubert has flashbacks to their past fights as they get closer, as well as quick cuts of Laura. The music builds to a crescendo as they come together, and with quick cuts we see Feraud's hat fly into the air.
We see Feraud being held by his men. He has been badly cut above his eyes, rendering him unable to continue. This is a real nasty looking wound, the dude was gushing blood! Seeing Feraud downed and bloodied d'Hubert turns his horse and rides off to a victorious piece of music. He's feeling so good about not dying that he even jumps his horse over a haycart!
The narrator then pops back up to kill the good mood by saying "six years later the emperor's grand army regrouped for armageddon" along with the title for the fourth chapter: Russia 1812.
Howling wind is all we can hear. Dead soldiers litter the snow, frozen in place. Those who are still alive seem barely so, trudging around, hacking and coughing. I don't know too much about history, but I do know that this wasn't a very successful campaign for Napoleon. d'Hubert is sat at a campfire, we slowly pan around the men sat with him and see Feraud on the other side, half concealed in the darkness.
They notice each other, and even here, close to death, they continue their fight. For now, all Feraud has the energy to do is grab two guns nearby and hold them while staring a hole through d'Hubert. The camera then slowly zooms in on d'Hubert, and it looks like fate has caught up with him. The next day Feraud asks for a volunteer to go check out reports of Cossacks nearby. The only person who looks like they're listening to him is d'Hubert, everyone else seems barely conscious. This was just a cover, of course. They mean to finish their duel.
We see wrecked carriages and frozen bodies litter the bleakly white landscape as d'Hubert and Feraud struggle through the snow, hardly able to walk. This is in contrast to their last duel, which was attended by loads of people in a lush green wood. Here, they're all alone, nothing but their honour to fight for. There is a series of close ups of both men, and like the last duel, d'Hubert looks terrified. He thinks he will die here, now.
They are interrupted by a couple of Cossacks, who attack them, so they have to come together to fight them off. They fire their pistols, and in the end Feraud brutally slits the throat of one man, taking out his frustration and his blood lust on him, as they both know that the duel is off for now. d'Hubert says "pistols next time?" in a kind of jokey way, but Feraud stays silent. d'Hubert offers him a drink from his flask, but he stays silent and just walks off. The scene ends with d'Hubert intently looking at a frozen body, contemplating the fate that could have been his, had they not been interrupted. Like the last duel, it ends with d'Hubert thankful for being alive, but there is no joy here, just the knowledge that this will resume at some point.
A slow zoom in to the dead soldier's face ends with a cut to black, and the fifth chapter title, Tours 1814. This also comes with birdsong, something you wouldn't hear in the last scene. When the new scene comes in we see d'Hubert walking with a limp up a tree lined driveway telling stories about Napoleon to a couple of children. One of them asks him "was it right to send him to Alba?" which will be significant come the end of the film.
We then see that he's at a grand mansion, long, still takes letting us take in all its grandeur. This is the home of his sister, and during a conversation with her we learn that she intends to marry him off. While she lays out her plan to do so we get a zoom in on her to show her focus on this matter, and how important it is to her. I really like the relationship here between d'Hubert and his sister, it seems quite playful and sweet.
d'Hubert is seen riding into the stable of a friend of his sister's in the next scene, and there's a great bit of rum-pum-pum brass music with a sweet flute melody here that I loved, and really suited the tone of the film. In the stable we see him talking to his sister's friend and learn he is now a general. At this point, the old guy's niece, Adele (Cristina Raines), enters, and there's a close up of d'Hubert that is classic "love at first sight".
There follows a romantic montage where we see their relationship blossom, ending with a proposal scene. I loved this scene, not just for the direction, more long, still takes of gorgeous pastoral scenes, giving you time to enjoy it all, but for the horse. During the proposal, d'Hubert's horse starts freaking out, but he just goes with it, telling the horse "shh", and then the horse actually kicks him! Fair play to Carradine for just going with it, because they both start cracking up at this horse, and the whole situation, and it just gave a real relatable, real feeling to the scene.
The next scene is more chat with his sister, talking about marriage, and she has a great line, "a good marriage settles down quietly, like moss. I've never heard a bad word said against moss".
Ominous, dark clouds fill the sky for the next scene. d'Hubert has been summoned by a Napoleon loyalist, and friend of Feraud (Edward Fox). They are meeting in a darkened carriage, sitting close together and speaking in hushed tones. He is trying to recruit d'Hubert back to Napoleon's army. d'Hubert also learns that Feraud is a general now, the same rank as himself. The loyalist tells d'Hubert "it has been said that you do not love the emperor". Feraud has been lying about why they fight, insisting now that it is to defend his honour. d'Hubert then mentions Madame de Lionne, and when the loyalist asks who that is, he says "I think that was the lady's name. He should remember better than I".
The message has just been delivered to Feraud in the next scene, and he starts by saying "she had nothing to do with the emperor". He doesn't even get what d'Hubert means at this point, he can't even remember why they're fighting anymore. He then lies about d'Hubert, saying that he talked shit about Napoleon, calling him a traitor, giving himself another reason to fight him. The scene ends in an ironic way with Feraud calling a toast "to the emperor, good luck to him and good luck to those that love him" before the narrator chimes in with "in less than one hundred days Napoleon was defeated".
We're then at d'Hubert's wedding to Adele. He is toasted by her uncle, who tells him "come sir, you're a royalist now, like the rest of us". He is then awarded a command in the king's army. When asked what fate he thinks Napoleon deserves, he says "I believe the emperor chose his own fate", another line that's very important for the end of the film.
We then get the title card for the last chapter of the film: Paris 1816.
d'Hubert is walking through the bustling, lively streets of Paris, when he is stopped by an old colonel, who admonishes him for becoming a royalist, saying "you took care to play safe. Feraud was right, poor devil. Always said you were a slippery fellow". d'Hubert then learns that Feraud has been arrested and is to be executed. He immediately goes to the police chief, Fouche (Albert Finney) and pleads Feraud's case. Fouche says that Feraud "talked himself onto our list", showing that he continues to be hot headed. When asked if they are friends, d'Hubert says "we've had a long association", I love that line. d'Hubert manages to get Feraud off of being executed, and he will be exiled, like the emperor he loves so much. d'Hubert, of course, wants his involvement in this to be unknown.
We then see Feraud in exile, the image of Napoleon in that hat and coat, walking around with his hands clasped behind his back. He's in a sleepy, run down, seaside town, gulls cawing in the background. A bleak, depressing sight after the noise and colour of Paris. We see him sitting at a cafe, drinking. Clock ticking loudly over everything else. All he has now is time. We then cut to an ornate clock in d'Hubert's fancy house. He and Adele are the picture of comfort and contentment. A baby kicks in Adele's womb, and there is a look of pure joy on d'Hubert's face when he feels it. We then cut back to Feraud in a dark cafe, huge contrast between where the two have ended up.
Someone in the cafe is reading the paper, and recognises d'Hubert's name, informing Feraud of this, and his location.
d'Hubert is walking through a field alone on a foggy day. A slow pan to the right reveals two dodgy looking dudes blocking his way. They reveal they are friends of Feraud. One of them says "honour before everything" as to why they're there, Feraud wants a final duel. d'Hubert gets really angry at this, screaming at them "this is royalist country! This is my home" and threatens to have them arrested and killed. They come back with "we have proceeded on the assumption you are a gentleman", which is such a good line. d'Hubert shouts "damn you, I am" in a very ungentlemanly manner.
We then see him leaving his wife in bed, telling her "I have some work to do", because that's what it feels like at this point, it's work. Then we see him sat in darkness, checking his pistols. There are some great extreme close ups of the pellets being loaded. He then goes to see Adele's uncle, like he's going to say goodbye without saying it.
We then see a plate of bread, his breakfast, left for the rats to eat. A bad omen.
At this final duel there are only four people, d'Hubert, Feraud, and his two mates. This is a contrast to their bigger duels, with crowds of people watching them fight. Now, it only matters to them, it's only important to them. Feraud's mate complains that it's bad ground for a duel. d'Hubert says "we came here to kill each other. Any ground is suitable for that". There's a real finality to his delivery there, someone will die. d'Hubert lays out the rules, two pistols, two shots, they'll enter the church grounds from opposite sides and hunt each other, shoot on sight.
The church ruins are gorgeous, crumbling stacks of stone overgrown by the woods which are shrouded in mist, shafts of blinding sunlight piercing through the clouds. There's a long scene of the two men slowly stalking through the woods, music building tension the whole time. Suddenly Feraud appears before d'Hubert and fires, huge shocking noise after so much quiet. The shot misses, and d'Hubert dives for cover.
There's a beautifully tense moment where both men are too scared to make the next move, then Feraud dives around the cover and fires again. Misses again. d'Hubert fires once, and misses, but holds his nerve and doesn't waste his last shot. He holds his gun on Feraud, who looks annoyed at being bested, rather than scared of being shot. He cocks his empty gun, and fires it at d'Hubert, of course nothing happens. He throws his hands in the air and "la!" again, before throwing away the gun, like he's saying "fuck it, kill me".
We don't see what happens next just yet. We just cut to d'Hubert walking back toward Feraud's friends on his own. They ask him "is he dead?" but he doesn't answer, leaving them, and us, on tenterhooks as to his fate.
He returns home, looks in on his sleeping uncle and smiles to himself. He's happy to be alive again, and looks like a weight has been lifted. Adele enters and asks him where he's been, and he just says "I had to work late, then I went for a walk". That "went for a walk" bit is like his way of saying "I'm done with Feraud, I've walked away from him".
We then see Feraud, still alive, walking through the woods, away from d'Hubert. There's a moment here where he stops, looks up at the sky in a moment of reflection, before looking down as if in shame, before moving on. While we see him walk through the woods we hear d'Hubert in voiceover giving such a badass speech. While he had Feraud at gunpoint, his life in his hands, he said this; "you have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years. I shall never again do what you demand of me. By every rule of single combat, from now on your life belongs to me. Is that not correct? Then I shall simply declare you dead. In all of your dealings with me you will do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man. I have submitted to your notions of honour long enough. You will now submit to mine". This is such a fitting ending for Feraud. The film opened with the line "the duellist demands satisfaction", but here there is no satisfaction for him. He wanted to either kill d'Hubert, or be killed by him. To be beaten by him, and then exiled, is the worst of both worlds.
Then we get the last shot of the film. Feraud walking through the woods into exile, like Napoleon, finding himself overlooking a river, and choosing to stand there and contemplate what he has done, ending with a slow zoom in on his face, and maybe if you look hard enough you can see the smallest flicker of regret.
This is an incredible film, and for me it's an easy 9/10, closing in on a 10/10. Would recommend it to everyone.