Driven very nearly crazy in the countryside, Laevsky (Andrew Scott) is the discontented Chekhovian intellectual taken to the brink. He’s shacked up with someone else’s fugitive wife (Fiona Glascott), whom he thinks he no longer loves—or is it that he can’t tell if he loves her because he’s become so depressed? As played by Scott (who looks a bit like Mark Ruffalo without the ingratiating mushmouth charm), he’s a desperate falling-apart man who might say or do anything, which is both awful and drolly funny.
Georgian-born Israeli director Dover Kosashvili, who last caused a justified stir with the very good Late Marriage (01), adapts Chekhov’s 1891 piece of short fiction, whose title recalls the author’s oft-quoted maxim/gripe about playwriting—that a firearm appearing in the first act will be discharged in the second. And indeed, it’s no spoiler to say that Laevsky steams inexorably toward the sanctioned unsatisfying resolution of high-minded dispute over perceived low-born behavior.
The Duel drops us into a pool of languid provincial life that bothers Laevsky mostly because of his own inertia and cowardice. (Before a single image appears on screen, we hear someone raucously crying out, “COME ON, YOU SAVAGES!”) Finally and perhaps most impressively, Kosashvili gets the delicate falling ending of short fiction that is so hard to achieve on screen.