The promise of Chekhov was all it took to sell me on this film – I hadn’t read the novella this is based on (I have now!) and I didn’t even read the description of the film. But I wasn’t disappointed. The Duel takes place in a 19th century Russian seaside town where layabout Laevsky has settled with his mistress Nadya. There is trouble in paradise – the film opens with Laevsky asking his friend the doctor what to do with a woman he was grown tired of. Tensions build between Laevsky and his neighbours until the eponymous duel becomes unavoidable. Chekhov had incredible insight into the human condition and every character here has a deep backstory and emotional life hinted at in remarks, gestures and expressions. As Laevsky slouches, grimaces, sighs and twitches he shows that he is a scoundrel, a fool, but also a redeemable man.
The director, Dover Kosashvili, originally came from Soviet Georgia. His first film, Late Marriage, seems to have been a critical hit. This new film features a mostly British cast, all accomplished actors who drop into their roles beautifully without showing off. The producer ran Merchant/Ivory films which might explain a thing or two about how this amazing costume drama seemed to come out of nowhere. Judging from the number of positive reviews I’ve found since seeing The Duel (including one I failed to take note of in The New Yorker), this one seems bound for some kind of acclaim.
If you love Russian melodrama and like your jokes tinged with sadness then see it. Screenings are on Oct 1st, 7th and 13th.