Grandpa Felicius: In its proper, non-”Deer Hunter” context, Russian Roulette is the ultimate in civilized duelling, an improvement over the standardized French Duel that the authorities had been trying to ban at least since the 1620s. (Cardinal Richelieu was particularly upset by those meddling, duelling musketeers, if we may lend credence to Alexandre Dumas.) The Russian Roulette eliminates the issue of skill, emphasizes the element of luck, and allows for some chance of survival, (witness Mikhail Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”). More importantly for the morality of the honor-bound participants, Russian Roulette makes it so that the unfortunate loser perishes by their own hand. Lady Luck, or whichever fetching Divinity one prefers, is to be fully blamed.
Alexei Mizgirev’s “The Duelist” is a reverent tribute to Lady Luck, Bravery, and 19th Century Russia. Its plot could double for the one in Ridley Scott’s “The Duellists,” which is fair enough since Joseph Conrad’s “The Duel” borrowed its plot basics in cavalier manner from Alexander Pushkin’s “The Shot.” (It all goes back to the U.S.S.R!). “The Duelist” is set in Moscow in the 1860s, and follows Yakovlev, (Pyotor Fyodorov, the Russki Colin Farrell). Yakovlev is a dueling gun for hire, a sort of proxy for gentlemen who, due to the many complications of the Code Duello, are not able to participate in their own fights.
Yakovlev is not just a mercenary: flashbacks slowly reveals his history an officer, his fall from grace, his salvation, (courtesy of an Orthodox icon and an indigenous Aleutian tribe)- and the true motivation behind his reckless Roulette rounds. (As befits a 19th century adventure in the mold of the Romantic feuilleton, that Dumasian motivation is revenge. Aside from Ridley Scott, Pushkin, and Dumas, the director has also alluded to Eugene Sue’s “The Mysteries of Paris” as inspiration.) Yakovlev’s nemesis is Count Beklemishev, (played by Vladimir Mashkov, whose features were at one point rumored the inspiration for “Grand Theft Auto IV”’s Niko Bellic.)
Trent: (Wait, Grandpa Felicius knows what GTA is?!?)
Grandpa Felicius: I maintain myself alert to all sorts of society-corrupting epidemics, whether it be the “Grand Theft Auto” video-gambling software or the Luciferian Face Swap app!
Tracey: I wish we had seen more of Yuliya Khlynina, who makes an impression in the sadly underwritten role that’s obligatory in any story about two dudes passionately comparing pistol sizes: the woman who exists only to prove there’s no gay shenanigans going on.
Beatricia: I think we saw plenty of her, thank you very much. Did Putin forbid his subjects from wearing underwear?
Hank: Reminded me of Tolstoy, except you can finish this in an hour and a half, instead of never.
Cousin Franz: For over 70 years, the Soviets produced mostly blunt Communist artifacts under the pretense of cinema (give a Tarkovsky here, take a bizarre escapist musical there). It would be accurate but faint praise to say that “The Duelist” is one of the most commercially entertaining, “awesome,” Russian movies ever made. Those who are forgiving of plot devices that were already creaky in the 1860s will enjoy the fine acting, finer costumes, the compelling plot, and the inherently tense nature of the duels.
Beatricia: “Finer costumes”? On the contrary, I’ve never been so uncomfortably aware of a movie’s failures at costume design. There is a scene purporting to show the creme de la creme of Moscovite society in which I couldn’t un-see the obvious fact that apparently every single Russian person was dressed by the same fashion designer from the same two or three basic patterns. It’s amazing these people didn’t massacre each other over “who wore it best.”
Trent: Fun movie, very inspiring. For all you cool peeps who want to impress your buddies, there’s no funner way to do it than with a Russian Roulette Night. Get an old-school revolver, add one bullet, and you’re set for all sorts of fun. See, if you roll the revolver’s cylinder just right, obviously the one chamber loaded with the bullet will land toward the bottom of the cylinder, because it’s the HEAVIEST! Newtonian Physics keeping you alive, yo! So it’s a totally safe game to play that makes you look BAAAF!
Tracey: BAAAF? Is that what you think sheep sound like? Mom, Trent needs an educational visit to the petting zoo, stat! And he can stay there.
Trent: It means Bad-Ass As All —
Beatricia: TRENT! And no more Russian Roulette in the house!
Tracey: Awwww, let him play, Mom, stop trying to cramp his style.
Hank: Warning: The previous post featured stunts performed by professionals or under the supervision of professionals. Accordingly, MTV and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate or re-enact any activity performed in this blog.
Blurbarella: “Was That– The ‘Jackass’– Disclaimer?– DO NOT EVER PLAY WITH GUNS– JACKASS HUMANS!”
5 out of 6 Cherries