Unrated 104 min - Drama
Review: Matt Mungle
Writer/Director Peter Strickland takes an interesting approach
to his latest film, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY. He elevates eroticism
without ever being truly erotic and even manages to show how a
relationship steeped in kinky fetish can still become stale and
mundane. His script is delivered in breathtaking performances
and enhanced with stylistic cinematography and technique.
Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is an expert on the study of butterflies
and moths. She is quiet and reserved. Her current relationship
with a timid and mousy young woman named Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna)
is not so reserved. When we first encounter the two women together
it is an intense moment that shows the nature of the couple. Cynthia
treats Evelyn more like a servant than an equal and the viewer
immediately feels awkward and even sad for Evelyn. As the story
progresses more pieces of the puzzle are made known and you are
tossed into a world of dominance and submissiveness of grandiose
scale. All delivered through the artful eye of Strickland.
We live in a day and age when films confuse gratuitous perversion
with sexual intimacy and eroticism. Most filmmakers take the easy
way out by showing more skin or churning out crude dialouge as
if this was the mark of success. They are so limited by their
lack of imagination and creativity that they squelch their characters
and story. They never tap in to the true nature and heartbeat
of the characters. It is all stimulation without any sort of long
term gratification. What Strickland does is take a relationship
that most could not even fathom and show that at the root of it
is what burdens us all. We all want to love and be loved, to understand
and be understood, to fulfill and be fulfilled. But it has to
be a give and take. If one member isn't willing to compromise
then the unit fails.
Strickland creates a film that is very gothic. If you have ever
watched a vampire flick from the late 60's early 70's you will
recognize the tight camera frames, blurry overlapping images,
and quick panning effects; this mixed with music swells of pipe
organs and unrecognizable ambient noises. The filter and tones
give it a black and white feel even though it has rich colors.
The use of antique furnishings and gothic decor add to the old
victorian factor. The subject matter often takes a back seat to
the artistic nature of the film. You forget that the characters
are engaging in actions that many would find offensive. The beauty
of the dialouge and passion of the characters blends seamlessly
with the surroundings. There is no in-your-face shock value. You
never get the sense that you are being manipulated or tantalized.
Newcomer Chiara D'Anna is marvelous in this role. She resembles
a young Audrey Hepburn but with even more naivety.As the plot
unfolds you find yourself drawn to how innocent she seems when
underneath it is far from innocence. Her youthful exuberance is
a drastic contract to the stoic countenance of Knudsen's Cynthia.
Strickland again achieves great effect in how he contrasts the
two characters. One is very confident and overbearing while the
other is meek and often seems on the verge of exhaustion.
The film takes a interesting turn that in some ways is anticipated
and expected. Sadly this takes place far too early in the movie.
The film would have been even more powerful and mentally compelling
had the viewer been able to second guess much longer. Keeping
the truth hidden from view could have elevated the dynamic of
the on screen relationship. Granted the story is still clever
and interesting even afterwards.
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is unrated and outhunt question an adult
film. The subject matter, dialouge, and themes contain explicitly
sexual tones. But as mentioned the film handles the content with
very brief nudity and no crude language. Strickland creates a
world of sexual tension but most is offered up to what you don't
see or hear. A lost art that many filmmakers should revisit. I
give it 4 out of 5 Sphinx Pinastri; well scripted, expertly delivered,
and masterfully executed.