French Film Review: The Edge of the Blade

 Paris 1887, where duels were still considered the way to settle an insult or an affront to a man’s honour, despite being against the law. This practice was only abandoned after the Second World War.

Be warned, there’s a lot of fencing and offending men’s honour in this film. For me, the film really became interesting when women’s rights activist Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre (the engaging and charming Doria Tillier), shows up wanting to create the first women’s fencing league.

She tries to offend a man, any man, so she can have a duel with him. No one takes her seriously. She tries again, saying she is offended by a newspaper article she’s read about herself and wants to defend her honour by having a duel with the editor, Ferdinand Massat (played wonderfully by Damien Bonnard). Again, no luck, as women have ‘rancour’ and men have ‘honour’.

What exasperates Ferdinand the most about her and all women is “their weakness”. But it is he who gets rattled by her line of feminist questioning when he refuses a duel, yells at her, becomes hysterical and demands she never be in his presence again.

The Edge of the Blade

Marie-Rose also wants to get rid of a law that forbids women to wear pants. (Eventually repealed in 2013!) And she wants equal wages for women, equal access to study and the right to vote.

She’s a madwoman!” scream the men.

It’s maddening to see men laughing at her when she demands more rights for women. Some things never change.

But not all men are against her. The other lead in this film is the fencing master and instructor Clément Lacaze (a brooding Roschdy Zem), who offends Ferdinand and is challenged to a duel. But as a master, Clément is barred from duelling a member of the public, so he chooses Marie-Rose to stand in his stead. After some fencing training, they become attracted to each other but need to concentrate on her impending duel.

Ferdinand initially refuses a duel, but after some arguing with Clément, he agrees, as he doesn’t want people to think he is a coward, and thinks he will easily win. But all of course does not go to plan.

Directed by Vincent Perez, who also stars in the film as Colonel Berchère, the man who killed the sword master’s young inexperienced nephew in a duel. After a pistol duel, the two men are back defending honour with sabres on horseback in an intense and skilfully filmed duel.

All the duelling scenes are meticulously produced. The Edge of the Blade is a cinematographically beautiful film, using low lighting to good effect.

A film worth watching for a window into French life in the late 1800s – with the rise of feminism, plenty of duelling action, albeit with some old men stuffily pontificating about the world, and there’s a dash of romance as well.



About the Contributor

Cynthia Karena

I am a freelance journalist, TV researcher and media trainer based in Melbourne. I write about tech, film, sustainability and travel among other things - and of course, all things French for You can find me on Twitter and Instagram

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