Friday, May 13, 2022

A Stop in France: The Last Duel

The Last Duel

In 1950, Akira Kurosawa made a groundbreaking film, Rashomonabout a horrible crime. The story was presented from a variety of perspectives. 

Since, unfortunately, Movie Churches is spending this month in Europe, there isn’t time for a side trip to Japan. More importantly, since we focus on Christian churches and clergy, the priest in that film is Buddhist. 

In 2021, director Ridley Scott made Kurosawa's gimmick his own by telling the story of a sexual assault from three different perspectives. His tale takes place in medieval France, so it works for this month's theme, and the priest in the film is Roman Catholic -- so that works too. Of course, Kurosawa’s priest was a kind, thoughtful man and Ridley’s priest is a cynical, corrupt politician. But we work with what we have.

The Last Duel
is based on a true story. Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver) are squires serving under Count Pierre de Alencon (Ben Affleck) after the Caroline War. Jacques becomes the Count’s tax collector and takes the prize property of Jean’s wife’s dowry. But worse is to come. 

Jacques rapes Jean’s wife, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) so Jean challenges Jacques to a duel, trusting the outcome will be directed by God and prove to all what is right.

But as I mentioned, this story is told from different perspectives. Jacques doesn’t believe he raped Marguerite. He believes he loves her and she loves him. The only real problem from his perspective is the awkward marriage vows between Jean and Margueritte (after the act he tells her, “We could not help ourselves.”)

Jacques goes to his priest, Le Coq (Zeljko Ivanek), but not regarding the sin of rape.

Jacques: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.”

Priest: “ Speak my son.”

J: “I carry a sin that weighs heavy upon my heart.”

P: “What is it, my son?”

J: “I have committed the sin of adultery against a man I once considered a friend.”

P: “You know your commandments?”

J: “Yes, Father. I ask forgiveness.”

P: “My son, Matthew tells us, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

J: “But is love a sin, Father? How can I seek absolution for love?”

P: “This is the work of the devil. This temptress leads you astray. Just as Eve lured Adam from the divine path. That is not love.”

J: “Then what?”

P: “God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”

Note that the priest puts the blame on the woman. He doesn’t really listen to Jacques about what he has done. He doesn’t consider that perhaps Jacques does have a really significant sin problem here. Not just “lusting in his heart”, but literal adultery -- if he would take take Jacques at his word. Also coveting -- literally -- his neighbor's wife. And, well, rape. But the priest doesn’t really seem to want to have to deal with real sin.

Even worst is to come from this priest.

When Jean accuses Jacques of raping Marguerite, the priest looks for legal loopholes to help Jacques escape responsibility.

Jacques is still under the delusion that his violent act was a consential transaction. He tells the priest, “It’s taken all my strength not to return to her. We knew it was wrong. I confessed my adultery and performed my penance. This charge of rape is false.”

The priest counters, “The common mind is not capable of such nuance.” He argues that instead of going to civil court, he should use his ordination to be tried in the Ecclesiatic Court. “Use the benefit of clergy. There really is no decision to make. You’re a cleric in minor orders. So, you can escape the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried by the Church where conditions are more favorable. Men holding church office number disproportionately among those accused of rape. They escape serious punishment by claiming the benefit of clergy, so… We’ll have the church try your case and be done with the matter.”

That a priest is making this argument is quite worrisome, but Jacques wants to make a public display of his “innocence.”

The priest, however, is worried about how Jacques will look when people consider the accusation made by Jean’s wife. He wonders why she was bold enough to make the accusation. "Yet under extraordinary pressure and at great risk to her name and reputation, Lady Marquritte has said that [the rape] did happen. Formally this is not about her. Rape is not a crime against a woman. It is a property crime against a male guardian, in this case Jean… This is not a matter over which a duel should be fought to the death. It should be settled quietly. Take the benefit of clergy.”

Though considering rape as a property crime was the law of the time, a priest's blithe agreement with this position is quite unsettling. 

We see no need for generousity in judging this priest for our Movie Churches rating -- after all the man has been dead for centuries. We give him our lowest rating of One Steeple.

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