Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – The Duke of Burgundy (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 17.02.2015 2

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – The Duke of Burgundy (Movie Review)

The Duke of Burgundy (UK Rating: 18)

While the PR machine went overboard last week for Fifty Shades of Grey, it's gone surprisingly quiet about one of this week's new releases, despite it being another movie featuring S&M. As Lights, Camera, Action! discovers, Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy, released on Friday 20th February, as well as on demand, is what used to be known as an art house movie and it's one that will enthral cinema enthusiasts.
Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – The Duke of Burgundy (Movie Review)

In an unnamed European country and in an unspecified time, Cynthia (Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) are both fascinated by entomology, especially butterflies and moths. To the outside world, Evelyn is Cynthia's maid but they are concealing something more intimate and complex. Time sees a shifting of the dynamics between them. Evelyn gives in to temptation and Cynthia yearns for a more conventional relationship, and the strain starts to show.

That's the narrative, but this is a film of layers and themes. What the audience sees at the outset is based on assumptions: that Cynthia is a cold, over-demanding mistress, and Evelyn a docile maid at her beck and call. The reality is rather different. Evelyn may be the one that washes the lingerie, but she definitely also wears the trousers, inventing new ways to spice up their relationship and imposing her wishes on the older woman to the point where she scripts it down to the last detail, including the words she wants to hear. Once that's understood, early scenes from the film are replayed, allowing the audience to see and understand them with the benefit of hindsight.

Aside from the dominance theme, age and ageing are of almost equal importance, especially to the elder of the two women. Cynthia is elegant and attractive, but acutely conscious of her advancing years: her waist is thickening and it's made all the more obvious by the tight skirts and dominatrix corsets her partner buys for her and insists on her wearing. She has back problems, snores while asleep, and eventually starts to long for a more comfortable, conventional way of life. Her pyjamas, though, don't go down well with Evelyn, who constantly demands stimulation and attention on her own terms. Cynthia starts to feel insecure and threatened by other women, especially the professor at the institute where they attend lectures. A female carpenter is viewed with the same suspicion.

The couple inhabit an all-female world - there isn't a man to be seen throughout the entire film - but given that this is a highly stylised movie full of artifice, it doesn't come as much of a surprise. So the title, The Duke of Burgundy, immediately raises an obvious question. It's not a nobleman Strickland is referring to, but a rare butterfly, studied and examined in just as much detail as the two women on the screen. They also give the film some of its most striking visual images and one especially jaw dropping piece of detailed cinematography partnered with the mind bending sound of beating wings.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – The Duke of Burgundy (Movie Review)

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Peter Strickland isn't to everybody's tastes but The Duke of Burgundy reinforces his position as one of the most innovative filmmakers around today. It's a film that alternately fascinates, frustrates, and intrigues. The one thing it doesn't do, despite the nature of the relationship at its core, is titillate. The cool detachment shown by Cynthia in the early scenes is reflected throughout the entire film. It's almost like looking at insects through a microscope.

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This certainly sounds more intriguing than Fifty Shades of Zzzz... Sadly it'll likely get overlooked by the majority.

Freda, have you seen 50 Shades as well?

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Nah!  Press screenings for 50 Shades were as rare as hen's teeth - a deliberate tactic to heighten the expectation - although I'd seen enough trailers and clips to make me feel I'd seen it anyway!

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