‘The Duke of Burgundy’ is a Mixture of Fine Wine and Sleazy Pulp Erotica

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With his last feature, 2013’s Berbian Sound Studio, writer-director Peter Strickland made a fascinating take on the Giallo film, like a mash up of Susperia and Blow Out accentuated with what’s fast becoming Strickland’s signature look of beautiful close ups in deep focus. For his follow up, Strickland expands upon his stylistic growth with The Duke of Burgundy, a slow burn relationship drama with an S&M edge. With its limited cast and fascinating power dynamic between lovers, The Duke of Burgundy has Strickland working as an assured and confident director.

Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) stays within her home studying entomology, mainly moths. Everyday Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) comes by to perform various chores around the house while Cynthia buries herself within her work. When Evelyn does unsatisfactory work, Cynthia subjects her to various punishments, each more demeaning than the next. Still, day after day Evelyn returns to work. It turns out that Cynthia and Evelyn have been in a relationship and their roles are a committed form of role playing. Between speaking engagements at a local entomology club, their roles as dominant and submissive seem in flux. Attempting to please one another through degradation carries its toll, and may very well undo the fabric of their relationship.

Between The Duke of Burgundy, R100, and the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, it would seem as if there’s a glut of S&M themed movies reaching the theaters in early 2015. While R100 fills the void of the bizarre and 50 Shades will be the commercial hit, The Duke of Burgundy is the honest exploration of a dominant/submissive power dynamic. With exception of a few supporting characters, the only main actors in The Duke of Burgundy are Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna, and both shine in their respective roles. Each actresses’ ability to convey pleasure, jealousy, apprehension, and contempt keep the audience guessing as to which way the power struggle is going at any given moment.

Beautifully shot, well-acted, and confidently directed, The Duke of Burgundy is an artistic homage to trashy sexploitation films of old with an honest, unexploitative look at relationship in crisis. Strickland’s assurance in his own work is conveyed through every frame, and he respects the audience enough to let them figure it out for themselves. From its opening credits, which seem like they’re ripped from an early ‘70s Swedish erotica picture, to its deliberate pacing and adult theme, The Duke of Burgundy is a mixture of fine wine and sleazy pulp erotica. Between Berbian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy, Peter Strickland has established that he is filmmaker worth keeping a close eye on.

The Duke of Burgundy will be released in select theaters and VOD on January 23rd by IFC Films

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  1. elbee January 21, 2015 Reply
    • Sean Mulvihill January 21, 2015 Reply

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