The Edge of the Blade is a film about honour, revenge and the fight for women’s rights

The edge of the blade
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Set in 1887, The Edge of the Blade essentially shows a series of 4 duels, an idiotic act of young bravado instigates the first. which cascades and escalates the rest, as peoples’ egos, reputations and honour weave between them. The film shows that these duels were still commonplace in France (even to the point of having a ‘Tribunal of Honour’), even though they were very much illegal.

The edge of the blade

The film is set against the backdrop of France remembering a war in which many men were lost and some that came back alive were changed forever (we assume the Franco-Prussian war considering the year the film is set), Early on we are introduced to Sword master Clément (Roschdy Zem, The Innocents, and Other People’s Children, AFFFF 2023) who is clearly one haunted by the war. Clément is a highly revered Sword Master and respected fencing teacher based at the fencing club run by Adolphe Tavernier (Guillaume Gallienne, Yves Saint Laurent, and Me, Myself and Mum, AFFFF 2014) (who is based on a real person). The world of fencing at this time is shown both as an elegant artform akin almost to dance, requiring great skill and intelligence, and a world full of ego and machismo, of gruff sweaty men puffing up their chests, smoking pipes and spouting misogyny.


In parallel, we are introduced to women’s rights activist Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre (Doria Tiller, (La Belle Époque, AFFFF 2021) who is fighting for the woman’s right to vote, for equal pay, to be permitted to wear pants whenever they feel (not just when cycling or horse-riding), and most importantly for men to respect them and the right to defend their own honour. As you can imagine, the majority of men don’t like her and think of her as a madwoman. Disgusted at what Le Petit Journal (yes it existed way back then!) has been publishing about her, she challenges Mr. Massat (Damien Bonnard, Les misérables, AFFFF 2019) from the paper to a duel. He and the gaggle of macho men around him laugh and scoff as, with great bravado, he refuses, saying that he can’t possibly fight a woman. She tells him she’s not scared to duel and thinks that he doesn’t accept because he is afraid of a woman.

une affaire d'honneur. The Edge of the blade. (c) Guy Ferrandis Gaumont France 2 Cinéma
(c) Guy Ferrandis Gaumont France 2 Cinéma

For a film based around the story of a real person, we would have hoped to see more of Marie-Rose Astié de Valsayre’s story in the film. A vast majority of the running time is spent on Clément and the series of duels surrounding him, and while he is the thread that binds everyone, we are given snippets from other characters’ lives, that are either never fleshed out fully, or are single lines never brought up again. As an example, early on in the film, we hear that Astié is wanting to set up her own fencing school for women but we don’t get to find out if she achieves that (spoiler, in real life, she does). Ironically, considering her story and character, it seems the wage gap also applies to screen time and storyboarding. That being said, The Edge of the Blade is still a very good film, but we would have liked to have seen more of her story, to make the story more balanced.


The Edge of the Blade is directed by Vincent Perez (Alone in Berlin, 2016), who co-wrote it with his wife Karine Silla (the third film they’ve scripted together). Perez also appears in the film as Louis Berchère, the nasty army Colonel who comes across as bloodthirsty, always looking for the kill (duels surprisingly can have a lot of rules and stipulations, not necessarily to the death, in fact, if the film is to be believed, duelling to the death was the exception rather than the rule) and never being one to accept a surrender.  For a film which is predominantly about a series of duels, The Edge of the Blade was written and directed so well that it keeps the viewer engaged.


The locations in which the duels took place have a great atmosphere and are quite visually appealing. From a green area surrounded by moss covered stone walls to a large shed on a farm, these locations meant that each duel was visually different not just because of the participants or the weapon of choice. You might think a duel in a shed on a farm is a bit of an odd location, but when you consider duels were technically illegal, if you were trying to organise one and had a friend with a farm in the middle of nowhere, it’s a prime spot.


The casting was excellent and everyone portrayed their characters well. We haven’t seen a lot of Doria Tiller before The Edge of the Blade, and based on her performance, we would like to see her other films. Roschdy Zem continues to act in varied roles. It was great to see Guillaume Gallienne after a long time of not seeing him on screen in Australia.

Une affaire d'honneur/ The Edge of the Blade Guillaume Galliene and Roschdy Zem (c) Guy Ferrandis Gaumont France 2 Cinéma
Guillaume Galliene and Roschdy Zem (c) Guy Ferrandis Gaumont France 2 Cinéma

Without giving it away, the final scene in The Edge of the Blade was quite strange. It seems to end abruptly as if it had been cut and something missed in the edit. Yes, the main story has achieved its end (apart from the notes which appear on screen following it), and while the end is abrupt the scene itself is also uncomfortably drawn out. The closing scene feels like slow motion and seems like it will never end, with no one in it really showing any reaction to anything. It feels like it was a strange choice of ending. Thankfully this doesn’t detract from the whole of the film but is more so a commentary on the odd choice made by the director.


The Edge of the Blade ties in nicely with the two The Three Musketeers films (also at this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival), which of course also features fencing, sword fighting and duels quite heavily.


The Edge of the Blade is a good watch and had us glued to the screen even though it was essentially a series of duels. We became invested in seeing the good guy (or gal) win and wondering if the protagonists would achieve their goals. Whether you like sword fights or women’s rights, there will be something in The Edge of the Blade for you.


Matilda Marseillaise watched a screener of The Edge of the Blade



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