Director Aleksey Mizgirev’s “The Duelist” is a mesmerizing tale revolving around the art of “duelism” a knee-jerk, punitive resolution to a legitimate or illegitimate offence; ironically, a “sport” that required noble roots; poverty-stricken sods were not allowed the expediency of dispatching, in moments, one’s foe. You may hire a titled substitute if you are not inclined to precipitously savor the unknown; “Yakolev” (scintillating, handsome Pyotr Fyodorov) a flawless marksman, with a haunted history, is the duelist for hire, a mercenary of the highest order, an unsanctioned murderer.
Gorgeously filmed in the mud-sodden, chariot- driven streets of St. Petersburg, 1860, where embroidered shoes and elaborate hems are perpetually compromised; subterfuge, cunning, miscreants camouflaged by elaborate, luscious attire. “Count Beklemishev”( brilliant, brutish performance by Vladimir Mashkov) is masterfully, selectively eliminating his financiers, using Yakolev, the “man for hire” to attain satisfaction. The dueling scenes, redolent with blood, tensioned-triumphed, (as are scenes of the infamous challenge of Russian Roulette), capture egregious, unnecessary solutions to, at times, meaningless slights.
Mizgirev’s “The Duelist” in actuality vivisects hierarchical/titled, archaic rules; blood determines your status; if stripped of your royal lineage you are fodder for abuse, discrimination, unwarranted death. If this is entitlement, bless the proletariat.
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), considered the founder of Russian literature, poet extraordinaire, died as a result of a duel, over his wife’s Natalia’s compromised reputation; a tragedy that continues to reverberate through time.
“The Duelist” resembling a Matryoshka Doll, unveiling a multi-layered story of revenge, retribution; simmers with stunning suspense until the fabulous, final minutes.