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.


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