Two goddesses, a pair of beings from the sphere of the sun or the moon and who take the form of women, engage in a strange battle in the bars, hotels, and mystical power-spots of Paris. They fight over the possession of a magical diamond that will allow them to remain on earth.
“I only see the underside of the fabric I am weaving.”
From Léone, a poem by Jean Cocteau quoted in the film
“In our attempts to reach ‘the solution of the riddle,’ we are occasionally obliged to move sideways into the confused excitement of our present spectator’s time across the conjunctions of diverse elements (acting, directing, setting, plot, dialogue, music, etc.) at each passing moment – rather than strictly forward in a more submerged absorption in fictional narrative time.
Needless to say, this is no easy matter. Narrative habits die hard, and the burning desire to know precisely what is going on in story terms might well divert one from the fascination of not knowing what will happen next in formal terms, in the constantly fluctuating relationships between chance and control. None of the actors is improvising this time, but pianist Jean Wiener is – recorded in direct sound and often visible during ten of the thirty sequences, in the dance hall as well as other scattered locations, often suggesting the rather disconcerting transferal of a silent film accompanist from the auditorium to the screen; and the principle of Rivette’s collaborative method throughout is again to see what happens when certain foreign elements are combined, without determining the results entirely.”
“In Berto’s first scene she enters a solitary hotel like a femme fatale in a state of affected weakness. But Berto deconstructs the type. She speaks in a strong voice, breaks her lines with awkward pauses, destroying any seamless identification, and bites her finger, like the innocent girl that she clearly is not. Soon she goes about seducing the young female concierge to help her find a vanished lover. These deviant gestures establish the eerie territory in which she sets her character’s preternatural machinations. The strength of Berto’s performance comes from the intersection of this non-naturalistic line of acting with a silent-era quality she bears naturally: her photogénie. And in her case, the photogenic energy is even more original because it is freed from the male gaze of yesteryear. Berto attacks that dominance with a character that is distant, queer, and unpredictably powerful.”
“I remember the first projection of Duelle that we did in Cannes, not as part of the competition, but for the Cannes fortnight, and, generally, people hated it, and one of the rare people who spoke to me when leaving the film was Jean Rouch, who said to me, you know, this film consists entirely of myths that are also African myths. It all relates back to African myths, because that was his reasoning. He asked me that question on the way out, so I told him no, I swiped it all from this book on Celtic myths, and he said to me, well, what do you know. And I know all those stories; I know them from Africa.”
- 1Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Duelle: Notes on a First Viewing,” Jonathanrosenbaum.net, 29 January 2018. Orginally published in Film Comment, September/October 1976.
- 2Matías Piñeiro, “In the Moment: Juliet Berto in Duelle (1976),” Film Comment, May/June 2016.
- 3Mary M. Wiles, “An Interview with Jacques Rivette,” in: Mary M. Wiles, Contemporary Film Directors. Jacques Rivette (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 143.