Sadly for me, The Duel is a film which looks good on the screen, but unfortunately is a badly directed adaptation of Anton Chekov's fine novella of the same name. The director, Dover Koshashvili, portrays Laevsky, the central character in the novella, as a nasty, brutish lout whose bizarre behavior is as unaccountable to the other characters in the film as it is to the viewer. He has left St. Petersburg for a small town on the Black Sea with another man's wife. He discovers that he does not love this woman, Nadya, and wants to leave her and return to St. Petersburg. He tries to borrow money from a local doctor, who in turn asks a zoologist, Van Koren, for the rubles. Van Koren hates Laevsky and tries to persuade the doctor to convince Laevsky to take Nadya with him when he leaves. When Laevsky comes to ask for the money, he insults the doctor and Van Koren uses this provocation to challenge Laevsky to fight a duel. Those that wish to see this film can discover the outcome of the duel for themselves.
As noted, director Koshashvili's mishandling and misunderstanding of the main character make it difficult for the viewer to make much sense of the story. All the other characters in the film have the same problem as the viewer; they watch Laevsky's antics with some astonishment, not knowing what to make of his behavior, and yet they tolerate him. Almost as confusing and equally unsatisfying is the treatment of Nadya, the woman who has left her husband for Laevsky. The director has little understanding of what motivates her as she interacts with Laevsky and the other characters in the film. In Chekov's novella, Nadya plays a small, but important role. In Koshasvili's film she is a central character and has many scenes unnecessary to the development of the story.
After viewing the movie I went back to Chekov's novella to determine if there was some confusion in his telling of his story and his treatment of his characters. The story, translated by the reliable Constance Garnett, is crystal clear and beautifully told. Laevsky and Nadya are complicated human beings. Chekov is so skillful and great a writer that we slowly begin to understand these truly unhappy and pitiful people. I recommend the novella, not the film.