“If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry,” Chekhov once wrote. Laevsky (Scott) isn’t married, but his situation is even worse than that. In a romantic fever, he ran off to the Caucasus with a married woman, Nadia (Glascott). Two years later, they live together openly, but the love is long gone. Laevsky isn’t legally bound to Nadia, but he is morally, at least according to the small but exacting society they keep in this seaside resort on the outer bounds of Russia. Drinking, sunning, shopping, and swimming: On the surface, the only difference in their days is in the exact ratio of one banal activity to another – oh, but what wild, ragged emotions lay beneath. Kosashvili, the director of the superlative Israeli family drama Late Marriage
, delivers an even-handed portrait of discontents in The Duel
, parsing feelings of affinity for the unpredictable and dissipated Laevsky; his sad, calculating mistress, whose position is untenable; and another townsman, Menzies’ upright zoologist Von Koren, who defends Nadia’s honor – not for the sake of Nadia, who frankly disgusts him, but as a kind of holy crusade against what he sees as the rising tide of degeneracy. The Duel
is a compassionate picture – lovely to look at, too (Atom Egoyan regular Paul Sarossy shot it on location in Croatia) – but it never achieves any real immediacy, or urgency, even with the title’s pistol-waving. Just as marriage does not banish aloneness, proximity to the characters onscreen doesn’t unlock any special connection to them. Late in the film, Nadia weeps about her unhappiness to an unsympathetic ear. “I am miserable, too,” he responds, “but what of it?” I share his shrug.