Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: The Duke of Burgundy

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
Peter Strickland's new film, "The Duke of Burgundy," is a fine example of a movie where I can admire the technique and, yet, be a bit divorced from the material. Much like Strickland's previous film, the far superior "Berberian Sound Studio," his latest is an homage to early 1970s films. While "Berberian" gave a nod to the Italian giallo films, "Duke" takes its inspiration from directors such as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin, although the sleaze-factor is significantly lower in Strickland's picture.

Although the film often looks great, I found it difficult to get into its rhythm and found long passages to be a bit of a snooze, which is interesting, considering that the film's central story revolves around a bondage relationship.

As I said, Strickland's film bears stylistic similarities to the Eurosleaze masters of the early 70s, but it's missing many of those films' attributes and despite the domination-based relationship between the film's two heroines, the movie is not erotic, there's no nudity whatsoever and much of the dominating involves the completion of household tasks. I'm not trying to be funny. For Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her maid, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), eroticism appears to be defined by how harshly the former can direct the latter to clean her clothes or empty out her cabinets and how well the latter can perform said tasks.

Later, the characters attempt to extend their role-play fantasies, which requires Evelyn to sleep in a locked chest through the night. And, gradually, much like "Berberian Sound Studio," Strickland's latest eventually devolves into straight-up surrealism, much of which involves visually stunning sequences involving butterflies. Oh yeah, Cynthia happens to be an entomologist, which means we are treated to more than a few lectures on butterflies that are, at first, interesting, but ultimately too much in abundance.

Although I didn't quite love "Berberian," I liked it and found it to often be entrancing and spellbinding. "Burgundy" has a similar visual style and some truly haunting music on the soundtrack, thanks to Cat's Eye. But the film left me a little cold.

Toward the end of the picture, the women's relationship faces a bump in the road and we are sort of left to wonder how they will work things out. That could have made for an interesting film, perhaps more intriguing than the one we have. However, you can't review the film you wish you'd seen, but rather the one in existence. As it stands, "Burgundy" has some praiseworthy elements but, for me, it didn't quite grab me.

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