Dir: Vincent Perez | Cast: Vincent Perez, Doria Tillier, Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne, Roschdy Zem | France, Historical drama 101′.
Vincent Perez has chosen a bold theme for his capable fourth feature, a historical drama set in 1887 about the honour of duelling. The Edge of the Blade is interesting more than gripping with its horseback sabre fighting, use of epees, firearms and other 19th century weapons.
Duelling was banned in France although armed duels still took place as a way of solving disputes and to preserve the honour of those seeking prompt justice in the higher echelons of society. The practise continued in France until the Second World War.
Best known for roles in Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Bossu, Perez also stars here as the agile but utterly charmless one dimensional antihero of the piece, Louis Berchere, who seems hellbent on dying in the name of honour – and to be honest perhaps that’s better than ending up in a care home. A ferocious combatant in the battle to preserve his honour we see him demanding a duel to the death in the film’s early part.
Despite the masculine nature of the subject the Swiss actor turned director manages to weave in a timely side-plot about a real life suffragette style feminist called Marie-Rose Astie de Valsayre (Doris Tillier) whose left hook causes some serious damage not least to the honour of the solid French cast of Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne – and Roschdy Zem, a swashbuckling instructor at a fencing school, who she later seduces although there’s no bodice-ripping to speak of here.
Perez and his co-writer (and wife) Karine Silla have certainly done their research; the rolling titles at the end of the film explain that Marie-Rose was a significant figure during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and is remembered for her campaign to get women the vote, and attempting to overturn legislation prohibiting women from wearing trousers.
The men all brush up against Marie-Rose’s brazen assertiveness – it was unknown at that time for women to be other than feminine and pliant. In a surprising twist, she challenges Bonnard to a duel but he manages to delay proceedings claiming her rig-out is unsuitable, whereupon the police are seen arriving on the brow of a nearby hill.
Mostly unfolding in interior scenes there are several impressive outdoor duel sequences – one in the woods and another in an open barn in remote fields. And while there’s no real dramatic arc or complexity in the characters, Perez and his DoP Lucie Badinaud manage the fighting set pieces with verve, and the finale is spectacular both for the duellists and the horses involved. @MeredithTaylor
NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE and BELGIUM | AUDIENCE AWARD KARLOVY VARY 2023