4) Zorro vs Elena
- Alejandro de la Vega aka Zorro, who you know by now. He has already secretly met her multiple times: first in his proto-Zorro outfit just before stealing Tornado, again while hiding from Love’s men in a confessional booth (in a gut-busting scene, he pretends to be a priest), and again during his undercover mission as a wealthy Spanish nobleman. In that last guise the two shared a very sexy flamenco dance at her father’s party, but what they’re about to do now is even sexier. Played by Antonio Banderas.
- Elena Montero, born Elena de la Vega. Diego’s real daughter, stolen as an infant and raised by his adversary. To her adopted dad’s frustration, she has the untameable passion of her mother and the righteousness of her real father. She’s frustrated by her feelings for Alejandro (he sent her necessarily mixed messages, being torn between his attraction to her and his mission to suck up to Rafael) and has doubts about her father’s behavior, being torn between her justice and loyalty. Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, in a star-making performance.
Both are armed with rapiers, as usual.
The Setup: About ready to make his escape, Zorro returns to Montero’s stables to fetch Tornado but is intercepted by Elena, who holds him at swordpoint and demands he return whatever it is he stole. He keeps trying to give her the brush-off but she’s persistent; when he condescendingly tells her (or “mansplains,” to use a hilarious new expression) that he doesn’t “have time to give [her] the proper instruction,” she smirks and tells him that she’s been trained in fencing since she was four.
Even though she’s giving him some (reciprocated) flirtatious vibes– Daddy’s cooped this bird up for waaaaaay too long and she’s totally down to, ahem, fence— Zorro can tell he’s not walking away from this… not that he entirely wants to. She waits while he removes his sword (not a euphemism), and they begin.
Here’s as good a place as anyway to point out what seems to be a deliberate effort (it may just be my perception) on the part of Bob Anderson and all the principal actors: even though they all use the same type of fencing with the same type of weapon, each main character seems to have his or her own trademark fighting style— or at the very least different approaches and attitudes to the same style. Each one’s body language identifies them like a signature.
Alejandro is all limber flash and pizzazz, whereas Diego (especially towards the end) is fluid, effortless, almost lazy. Montero’s style is plain but strong, aggressive and relentless. Captain Love fights more formally & rigidly; you constantly see him with one hand firmly planted behind his back. Elena is somewhat more formal as well, but in more of a dramatic way: during the fight that’s about to ensue, she keeps re-assuming similar exaggerated starting poses, and generally moves about in a florid way.
It’s an excellent little touch that adds richness to the film, even if the audience doesn’t consciously notice it. Anyway, en garde!
The Fight: Paced and staged differently than anything that’s come before, but certainly no less fun.
Elena’s skill is evident early on, as at the end of their first exchange she ends up slashing Zorro on the shoulder… but only his clothing, she doesn’t actually seem to break the skin. He regards the non-wound with a sort of amused frustration, and by unspoken mutual consent they take a quick breather as they both
slip into something more comfortable remove their more obstructive layers of clothing: Zorro his hat & cape, Elena the robe she was wearing over her nightgown.
Actually, the amount of humor/sexiness they each put behind small little dialogue exchanges and body language throughout the fight… well, it’s hard to accurately convey it into print, but it’s perfect. Both actors are absolutely on the same wavelength with each other and with what was needed out of the scene, and the resulting chemistry is impeccable. They pull if off so well you’d almost think they were an item in real life as well– and hey, who knows. Both later admitted being genuinely turned on while filming the scene. Don’t tell Michael or Melanie.
Once they begin again without encumbrance, Zorro’s superior skill comes into play, and he repays his torn shirt by ripping her dress to reveal a generous amount of thigh. “Not bad,” she says nonchalantly. “Not bad at all,” he replies as he outmaneuvers her and leans in for a surprise kiss. She gets visibly (and sexily) angry, flustered enough so that in the next exchange he slices off one of her shoulder straps, resulting in her being dangerously close to toplessness. So of course he kisses her again, getting her even more worked up.
She ends up disarming him, but without missing a beat, he outwits her by diving into a nearby pile of hay and blocking her thrusts with a horse bridle. This also allows Zorro to seize her sword, and even though she runs to grab his where it fell, he beats her there, makes her rise slowly, and tells her not to move as the camera focuses on the hero making several rapid but delicate sword swipes. He steps back looking enormously pleased with himself, and when the shot moves back to her, we see why: he’s cut her gown in just enough places so that it will fall apart on its own within seconds, leaving her stripped to the waist, save for some strategically placed hair.
She uses his hat to cover her indecency, and after a bit more banter they embrace for their third and most passionate kiss. He disappears to collect his things just as Elena, eyes closed, leans in for more as if entranced. He says goodbye to the señorita and leaves just ahead of Don Rafael and his men. But not before popping back for his hat.
There’s a hilarious little denouement as Elena has to explain to her flustered father what happened while (not) concealing her obvious attraction to him. When she shouts “he LEFT!” it’s clear that she’s more angry that he didn’t stick around for more smooching than she is about having lost the fight. But really, in a fight like this, everyone’s a winner– especially the audience. Don’t you think?
If this scene commits any sin (besides that one from the Seven Deadlies, I mean), it’s that it’s too short, ending not too long after it starts. But that’s a bit of a necessity, given that the two could only plausibly be in there so long before somebody thought to check the stables. Plus it’s stretched out fairly well as it is with the flirtatious material in-between exchanges of blades.
It really is perfectly paced and staged. There’s an energy to it that would be hard to convey in the script, so kudos to not just the actors but also director Campbell for understanding what was needed. James Horner’s score switches to a steady beat of maracas (I think) throughout, helping enormously with the playful tone.
It’s a bit ridiculous that Alejandro, a man who’s only studied for a few weeks (months?) could stand a chance against Elena, who received 16 years of the best instruction. But that’s the kind of silly universe this movie inhabits– one where no one recognizes you if you put a bandana on your head, or where a masked man in dark black can successfully sneak around in broad daylight. It works.
Is it a bit sexist? Well, it features a woman being turned on by multiple unwanted kisses from a criminal who’s (kind of) physically assaulting her, who then humiliates her by stripping off half her clothes, so… okay, technically it is. But, I must mansplain, you shouldn’t take that any more seriously than the idea that the novice fencer can beat the expert, and so forth. It’s willfully silly, so have some fun with it. It’s still less sexist than literally anything that happens in the Twilight books.
Coming Attractions: The, ahem, climax.