A Walk with Love and Death

United States, 1969

Directed by John Huston

With Assaf Dayan (Heron), Anjelica Huston (Claudia)

A young man walks across a field. He stops by a river to drink; when he lifts his face from the water, he sees a dead body is floating downstream. Shot in long shot and medium close shot, the opening sequence captures the tragic position of Heron de Foix. He has left Paris where he studied in order to escape political chaos and to reach the sea. To him, nature is a refuge and a pleasure. The sea is a dream to be seen and the possibility to flee. His journey takes him across Western France, in the midst of the One Hundred Years War.

Looking for love in a hostile world: Assaf Dayan (left) and Anjelica Houston

One of the first places to shelter him is a castle belonging to the French King. He meets there by chance a young and charming lady, Claudia, who accepts to play the role of a symbolic protector for the rest of his travel. Both are clearly impressed by each other.

They are later reunited when Heron is told of the destruction of the castle by revolting peasants and decides to check for his lady. He finds her and from that moment the two never part, traveling the land until the end – which is not the seaborne voyage they planned but the passage to the hereafter.

Violence is inescapable; in fact, it becomes more frequent and grislier as the story unfolds. In a the first incident, an old man who sold wine to Heron is arbitrarily arrested by soldiers; Heron pleads for his freedom to no avail and the fellow is killed. Nothing is shown; a horrible cry is simply heard. This low-key take doesn’t last; as the couple witnesses more clashes, the director shots even more graphic and gory scenes, including a peasant being quartered. The world they move through is definitely cruel and unfeeling.

Religion, then an essential part of social life, doesn’t provide relief and aid. Whether taught by an itinerant preacher or worshiped by priests and monks, it feeds the climate of fear and injustice owing to zeal and contempt of human feelings. Social inequality gets more entrenched and crueler as nobles quash the peasants’ uprising the harshest way and extend the punishment to those of their ranks who have a different view (like the character played by John Huston himself).

The love between Heron and Claudia contradicts this world. Their freedom of mind makes them very sensitive to the horrors and impatient to fill their expectations on life, beauty or liberty. The final part of the movie, in an unoccupied abbey, shows them tired of runningaway and intent on enjoying life together – they even fake a marriage ceremony. Their enemies appear to catch up on them; death is coming but they seem willing to surrender their bodies, confident as they are of the beauty of their own beliefs.

In “A Walk with Love and Death”, Huston has succeeded in showing the greatness of a particular love inside a dreadful and intolerant world. Played by little-known actors, with a simple narration shot in a straightforward way, though not without elegance (in particular, the photography), the movie never managed to get much attention from the audience or the commentators, though the social commentary it made remains relevant and the emotions of the characters are still truly touching.

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