James Rivette's 1976 film is an unpredictable showdown between two goddesses. Info
A dazzling, elusive, otherworldly gem of a film, Jacques Rivette's 1976 experimental fantasy noir Duelle appears to be a slow-burning murder mystery for nearly half of its running time, until the film suddenly reveals itself to be a labyrinthine supernatural drama. The plot centers on the rivalry between Viva (Bulle Ogier) and Leni (Juliet Berto), goddesses of the Sun and the Moon, respectively, who descend to Earth in search of a precious stone that will allow the victor to remain on the planet and enjoy its temporal pleasures. Rivette lures viewers into a lush, dreamlike parallel world, presenting a striking, strangely seamless succession of shifting atmospheres as several mortals become entangled in the dueling deities' intricate web of subterfuge, machinations and secrets.
Originally, the film was intended to be the second part of a series called Scenes de la vie parallele ("Scenes Of A Parallel Life"). All four films were to take place within a fabricated mythological framework and each feature was to be in a different genre. Rivette explained, "The ambition of these films is to discover a new approach to acting in the cinema, where speech, reduced to essential phrases, to precise formulas, would play a role of 'poetic' punctuation."
Alas, the director was only able to complete Duelle and Noroît (a gender-bending pirate adventure, also from 1976) before suffering a nervous breakdown and abandoning the project. Nevertheless, with its elliptical narrative, exquisite visual design, meticulous mise en scène, and fluid, elegant cinematography, Duelle remains seductive, riveting, and unpredictable to its very end. —Jason Fuhrman