childhood friends Matt Damon e Ben Affleck were two virtually unknown actors looking for a career when they wrote indomitable genius (1997). The project not only attracted director Gus Van Sant and actor Robin Williams (1951-2014), who won his single Oscar, supporting actor, for the film, as he led the original screenplay figurine. Since then, the two have had more than successful trajectories in Hollywood, as actors, screenwriters and producers and, in Affleck’s case, also as a director.
They had never written together again, although they remained close friends, until Or Last Duelo, which hits Brazilian cinemas this Thursday, the 14th. “I think we were afraid to write, because we were so inefficient the first time around,” said Damon in a press conference, via videoconference. “It took years because we had no idea what we were doing. We wrote thousands of pages and basically squeezed everything into a script. But I think after 25 years we learned a little bit more about structure. In the end, it turned out to be quite effective.”
They swear they weren’t looking for a script to write together. Matt Damon one day came across Or Last Duel, written by Eric Jager, which is being released in Brazil by Intrínseca. The book is the result of research into the history of the last duel authorized by the Paris Parliament. Shortly after Christmas 1386, Norman knight Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon in the film version) faced squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), accused by Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) of rape. Basically, it was a trial by combat, like those who became famous in Game of Thrones: whoever won would be considered innocent, as he was spared by God.
Damon thought it was the ideal project to get back to work with Ridley Scott, with whom he had done Lost in Mars (2015) – after all, the director’s first feature film had been The Duelists, about a duel in the early 19th century, and he is known for the action scenes. Scott jumped right in, putting off some of the many movies he’s playing at the same time. At a dinner with Affleck, Damon told the story and heard from his friend a proposal to write together. “So it happened in a very organic way,” Damon said.
At the beginning, Or Last Duel it looks like a classic movie about the Middle Ages, with tough guys – with terrible haircuts, to be honest – defending their honor and their property, women included, in armor, with heavy swords, blood, mud, guts.
“We wanted the film to use all the tropes of cinema in the first two acts,” said Damon in an interview with Estadão. “We wanted the film to seem to forget about women, so that they were just manifestations of what men need. And then in the third act, the viewer is suddenly introduced to this world of ignored women, the way it has always been done in cinema. ” As co-writer Nicole Holofcener joked at the online press conference, “We wanted the audience to ask themselves why Jodie Comer, being such a successful actress, agreed to play such a bad role.”
It is in the third part that the film really says what it came from: it is, in fact, the story of a woman erased by History and raped in various ways, starting with marriage as an economic transaction. “It was a minefield to interpret three different perspectives, but only one truth,” said Comer at the press conference.
Or Last Duel seems to have nothing to do with Holofcener’s previous career, known for dramas centered on female figures such as friends with money (2006), in search of love (2013) e Could You Forgive Me? (2018). But as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck admitted, it was the best decision they could have made. They needed a woman to give Marguerite an inner life and understand the nuances of a topic as sensitive as rape. Also because they had decided to divide the story into three parts, Rashomon style: the first has a version by Carrouges, the second, by Le Gris, and the third, by Marguerite.
In theory, Damon wrote Carrouges, Affleck did the piece of Le Gris (which he was going to play, but ended up with the role of aristocrat Pierre d’Alençon, who covers Driver’s squire), and Holofcener got Marguerite. Of course, in the end, everyone collaborated in all segments. “Nicole’s job was difficult because Matt and I had a lot of historical documents to lean on, while Nicole had to write fiction basically because nothing was written about women at that time,” Affleck noted.
One of the concerns was that, even in the Carrouges and Le Gris versions, there was no doubt that Marguerite was a victim. “There was no ambivalence. Le Gris wanted to have sex with her and chose to see things a certain way,” Holofcener told Estadão. Meanwhile, her husband took rape not as violence against his wife, but against his property, as women were not considered human beings. The production was also careful to hire an intimate scenes coordinator and to consult with various support organizations for survivors of sexual abuse. “They told us if the scene was too long, like filming. There is no nudity, for example. We chose to write and film consciously.”
For Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, it was the least they could do. They know that we are at a time when settling comfortably in their privileged vantage point is no longer an option. “We have to continue learning and listening,” concluded Affleck to Estadão. “We’re realizing that our perspective may not be each other’s, that people are different ethnically, linguistically, in terms of gender, sexual orientation. If you accept that and the basic premise that human beings have lives and different experiences, but that everyone deserves respect and understanding, needs to be open to communication and learning. That’s the message I heard and learned.”
For him, we are, after all, the product of a patriarchal, corrupt, immoral structure that creates people who reflect these values. In the film, the Church, science, the courts, the government support this system. what happens in Or Last Duel it seems like something very extreme and distant in the past, but its traces can still be seen. A smile that is taken as an invitation.
A no that is ignored as a protest that a lady or “upright woman” must make before sex. And institutions and a society that are not open to listening to women without treating them as guilty, when they have little to gain by making a complaint. “I sincerely hope that men will examine their behavior more carefully,” added Holofcener. “Our goal with the film is not to change anyone, but if that happens, how fantastic.”