Director: Peter Strickland.
Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Synopsis: Peter Strickland’s new film is a bold and sensual exploration of the power dynamic between two women who live cut off from the outside world.
You could probably count on one hand (assuming the other is busy) the amount of films that have truly married up smut, romance, character and plot in a manner that makes for a compelling and excellent work. Rarest of all is a convincing, rich and wonderfully realised representation of a Dom/sub relationship. SECRETARY managed it while FIFTY SHADES OF GREY will mortify anyone even vaguely affiliated with real world kink. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, however, is forthright, filthy, flummoxing and phenomenal.
It’s been a while since there was a work so alive with sound and vision. Strickland clearly has a knack for creating vital and compelling sound-scapes, as proven in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, and while viewers may expect the smut to be the most captivating element (they won’t be disappointed), it is the incredible audio work that stays with you. From the thud of a wooden trunk closing to the gulping of water to the sound of stiletto heels on floorboards, there is a precision to what we hear that is totally immersive. This is offset with the dreamlike music of Cat’s Eyes and the nightmarish score that accompanies the film’s creepier moments. There are visual echoes of gothic Hammer horror at certain points, particularly when Evelyn (D’Anna) practically sleepwalks around in her Victorian nightgown looking like a dream of Dario Argento.
The visuals may well have been inspired by that very man and at times the imagery is so surreal, you may wonder if your eyes have fallen out into a pit of moths. The anatomy of insects is fetishised just as much as the boots that need washing and the wrists that need binding and like the best symbolism, the meaning of it all is very much open to interpretation.
To me, this is a film about restriction; what it is to be tied up and held down, both physically and figuratively, by love and lust. It may be Evelyn that is willingly bound and left in a trunk over night but it’s Cynthia (Knudsen) who feels restricted by her lover’s desires and needs. The repetition of their roleplay, perfectly demonstrated by Strickland, shows that even the kinkiest of relationships can become mundane, as hearts and minds flutter away from the loins. While D’Anna is very watchable, Knudsen is mesmerising, tragic and incredibly funny as Cynthia, with their chemistry creating the most poignant and intensely erotic screen couple in recent cinema. The mutual masturbation scene in particular will make you ache with laughter and lust in equal measure.
To call THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY an erotic masterpiece may be accurate, but would also be limiting. It’s a surrealist study of love and sex that is incredibly romantic and surprisingly relatable. It is a work of art. I’m just buggered if I know why it’s called THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY.
[usr=5] THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is playing during the London Film Festival, tickets and dates are available here.