It is Madrid in 1868. The revolutionaries of Prim are vying with
the Monarchists loyal to Isabel II for control of the country.
Against this broad political backdrop a tense human drama is acted.
The players advance and retreat, parry and riposte, and change partners;
some triumph, but in the end all are defeated.
In The Fencing Master (El Maestro De Esgrima), our eponymous hero is
an aging Master, indifferent to the world outside of the salle. He
wishes only to pass his art on to pupils and finish his treatise on
fencing. His illusion that he has outgrown the art of love to love
only his art is shattered when a mysterious, tall, dark, hansom,
young woman comes to him to perfect her already well developed technique
and to learn ``the secret thrust.'' Although the Master at first refuses
on the grounds that she is a woman, he soon submits to her considerable
charms and talent and before long becomes obsessed with his new pupil.
At a lecture on Fencing, she meets another pupil of his, a seemingly
carefree count. Then she breaks off her lessons and she and
the count are seen together increasingly, while the Master sees the
folly of his hopes for romance. But the love triangle is quickly
shattered when the count is found dead with a wound that might have
been delivered by ``the secret thrust,'' and the mystery woman disappears
without a trace save the considerable *** stains in her apartment. Our
quiet romance quickly evolves into a taut *** mystery and political thriller
as the Master attempts to decipher the ***shed as the bodies pile
up around him and he becomes the next logical victim.
The Fencing Master is a many faceted movie filled with romance, mystery,
elegant sets, and action, but it is above all the tragic love story of
the love of a man for his art. In this way it is comparable to Tous les
Matins du Monde. But of course, as we know, Fencing is the art best
suited to the moving picture. The Fencing Master reminds us of the
days when our sport was not a sport but an art and a part of honour.
The Fencing Master is a feast for the modern fencer. It is to the fencer
what Babbet's Feast was to gastronomes. It is filled with precise technique,
flashy parries, pris-de-fer ripostes, and complex exchanges. All the fencing
-- lessons, sparing, and the inevitable climactic duel -- is brilliantly and
subtly choreographed. For example we can clearly see the difference between
the precise but uninspired bouting of the Master's young pupils and the fiery
determination of the mystery woman.
I would rate the Fencing Master as a ``must see'' for fencers. Non-fencers
will not mind being dragged along either. It is perhaps a little slow at the
beginning, but makes up for this at the end. The final solution to the
mystery is perhaps a little unsatisfying, but the dueling and the psychological
impact of the denouement on our hero are wholly satisfying.
Directed by Pedro Olea, staring Omero Antonutti and Assumpta Serna, based
on a novel by Arturo Reverte, made in Spain in 1992, I highly recommend
seeing this one if you get the chance.