Ben Affleck hopes that his latest movie, “The Last Duel,” will generate “a lot of catharsis and empathy” among audiences of the Ridley Scott-directed historical epic, which premieres Friday at the Venice Film Festival.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon, Affleck said the story is “one that I hoped would develop in the viewer a sense of compassion, and the idea that we might look at one another in a different way, and with more empathy, and with the sense of wondering whether or not our personal perspective might not take into consideration completely the other person’s reality, history, culture and education.”
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Based on actual events, “The Last Duel” is a tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutality of 14th century France. The story centers on an accusation by Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), the wife of Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), that Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) sexually assaulted her. The fate of all three must be decided in a duel to the death.
The screenplay, which is written by Nicole Holofcener, Affleck and Damon, has a three-part structure, with the first two parts told from the men’s perspective, and the third told from Marguerite’s point of view. Comer said that when taking the part she had wanted to “make sure that this woman was fully fleshed out, and she had this experience, but wasn’t defined by it.” She added that, despite the different perspectives portrayed, “at the end of the film there is only one truth.”
Asked if the #MeToo movement had influenced her performance, Comer said: “I think for me, coming to this part, the sense of a duty of care was always very present — I think there are going to be so many women who watch this film who relate to it in some way.” When filming she just focused on “making it as truthful and authentic as possible,” she said.
Holofcener, who worked primarily on delivering Marguerite’s perspective in the film, added that in terms of her role as a writer, “I just worked on her.” She added: “Of course, we were all aware of the #MeToo movement, and how this experience — what she went through — is still going on, but I don’t really write that way, and the last thing I know we all wanted was to be on a soap box, and say, ‘Look how relevant it is today,’ because I think people will get that, without us having to write it. I just worked on her as a human being and what she went through. And we did take a great deal of care in making sure that her story is the true story.”
Affleck, who arrived in Venice on Thursday with girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, said the character of Marguerite was a primary draw for him in wanting to make the film, and that he knew from the beginning “the movie would absolutely rise or fall on this performance.”
The actor, who produced the film with Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Jennifer Fox, Holofcener and Damon, praised Marguerite’s “extraordinary strength and bravery.” He characterized the story as one focused on a person “who has been done a great injustice and goes to great lengths to seek justice at great risk to themselves.”
He said that “it was important and interesting to tell a story that wasn’t just an indictment of one bad person but that pointed to the cultural antecedent that Europe and countries colonized by European countries share, which is one that didn’t view women for many, many centuries as human beings, and in fact many residual aspects of that perspective remain.”
Scott, who is the recipient of the festival’s Cartier Glory to the Filmmaker award, spoke about how he chose projects. “I am constantly looking for something that is fresh and is different,” he said, and he had never made a musical or a Western before, so he was “looking for that now.”
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