“I do consider myself a feminist,” said Ben Affleck to the Venice Film Festival press corps this afternoon. The actor was in town with to talk about his latest pic The Last Duel, along with co-stars Matt Damon and Jodie Comer, director Ridley Scott and co-writer Nicole Holofcener about the 14th century title, based on the book by Eric Jager, which is screening out of competition at the festival tonight.
“The movie principally was really exciting to me because of the character of Marguerite [played by Comer],” said Affleck. “Her extraordinary strength and bravery seemed very obvious when I read the book.”
He added: “This is a true story, one that people didn’t know. This is an incredible woman from history who is an early-known recorded person who spoke out against a powerful man who assaulted her. Naturally, that seemed relevant and also incredibly thrilling, and a story that could generate a lot of catharsis and empathy and one that I hoped would develop in the viewer a sense of compassion and, we hope, the idea that we might look at one another in a different way.”
The title, which is co-written by Damon, Affleck and Holofcener, also stars Adam Driver and chronicles one of France’s last legally sanctioned duels. Set in 1386, it sees King Charles VI (Affleck) declare that the knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) settle his dispute with his friend and squire, Jacques LeGris (Driver), over a claim of sexual assault by the knight’s wife (Comer). After a duel to the death, the one left alive would be declared the winner as a sign of God’s will – and if de Carrouges loses, his wife will be burned at the stake as punishment for her false accusation.
Speaking about why he chose to direct the title, Scott, who is being awarded the Cartier Glory to the Filmmaker Award at Venice tonight, said he couldn’t say no to Damon after working with him on The Martian.
“When you get a call from Matt Damon who says, ‘hey dude – you’ve done a duel before but we’ve got another duel – do you want to read it?’ and I said, ‘yes.’ You don’t say no.”
Scott added: “I enjoyed working with Matt tremendously on The Martian so I thought, why not let’s go again. I got the script in six weeks…and that’s quick because normally you have this kind of thing proposed and 10 years later you still haven’t made it.”
Talking about the writing process, Damon said, “Ben and I did the male sections – the first two acts. Nicole did the third act, which is primarily Jodie’s story, although Jodie obviously enters both of our stories. The idea was that in the male stories, the women are kind of manifested when the men need them. For something other than that, they’re ignored…they are their property and they’re kind of seen of as that.”
Holofcener noted that they were, of course, all aware of the #metoo movement and how “similar this experience” Marguerite went through was.
“The last thing we all wanted was to be on a soapbox and say, ‘look how relevant this is today’ because I think people get that without us having to write it,” she said.
Comer added: “Coming into this part, the sense of a duty of care was always very present. I think there’s going to be so many women who watch this film and relate to it in some way.”
The Last Duel is released by 20th Century Studios and is produced by Scott and Kevin Walsh for Scott Free, with Damon and Affleck producing through their Pearl Street banner. It opens in theaters October 15.