The Duke of Burgundy Screen 84 of 32 reviews

The Duke of Burgundy

2014

The Duke of Burgundy Poster
  • Its point is not strictly to induce shudders, nor to pay homage, but to relate a romance of utmost tenderness. Its Möbius strip structure doesn’t point toward nihilistic gloom; counterintuitively, it demonstrates how relationships (kinky lesbian relationships especially) can break and mend. Strickland musters all the opulently sinister excesses at his disposal for the sake of vulnerability and sexual candor.

  • What we’re watching isn’t so much a film about unusual sexual practices as it is one about the way all relationships mutate, about how a person we imagine to be one way can become, over the course of time, someone different. That's not an original idea, by any means. But, not unlike the old movies it appropriates, The Duke of Burgundy reinvents that idea to the point where it feels like a revelation.

  • While the film’s setting is deliberately left geographically and chronologically indistinct, the richly-toned colour palette, mannered acting and baroque decors of The Duke of Burgundy unambiguously render it a loving homage to a certain highly stylised vein of 1970s European erotic art cinema.

  • Dialogue happens rarely in the film, but it suits to ground the audience while they parse Cynthia and Evelyn’s emotional universe. This vertical and horizontal friction has moments of breaking in The Duke Of Burgundy, but even at the film’s conclusion, Cynthia and Evelyn’s fates are the agency of the audience’s affecting interpretation.

  • It’s a film with its mysteries – including a remarkable hallucination that overdoses on moth imagery (and a soundscape of chittering insect noises) – but nevertheless it’s extraordinarily lucid and deliciously entertaining.

  • Love can be a cruel mistress, as British director Peter Strickland so exquisitely illuminates in this startlingly beautiful piece of Euro erotica. The shifting nature of long-term relationships is explored through a couple with a fetish for butterflies and S&M and it’s a sumptuous, spellbinding, sensory experience.

  • The undeniable otherness of the chosen subject matter — dominant-submissive role-playing in a lesbian relationship — insures that Strickland (a straight white man, it bears mentioning) is never running on representational autopilot, and accordingly, the vagaries of The Duke of Burgundy’s form are always in lock step with the psychological dynamics of Cynthia and Evelyn’s relationship.

  • What begins as a bloodless tale of mistress and maid blossoms into a poignant, cyclical exploration of a couple’s inability to compromise on sexual predilections. Best experienced with an uninitiated pair of eyes, The Duke of Burgundy is an increasingly rare film that, for all its reflexive homages and aural intricacies, never forgoes substance for style.

  • At its core, this is one of the most incisive, penetrating, and empathetic films ever made about what it truly means to love another person, audaciously disguised as salacious midnight-movie fare. No better picture is likely to surface all year.

  • What brings the film to life is the elegance of the execution, beginning with the silkiness of the performances. Sidse Babett Knudsen is best known as the lead in Scandinavian political TV drama Borgen, and that gives a perverse frisson to her decorously steamy scenes: my God, you think, that’s the Prime Minister of Denmark whose crotch the camera is slowly zooming in on.

  • Like many male directors telling a woman's story, Strickland is attempting to achieve empathy by a form of pronouncedly indulgent cleansing: He charges full-tilt into the objectifying whims of his fantasies in order to somehow reach the other end of perception, which acknowledges the ultimate empathetic limitations of said fantasies. Amazingly, Strickland, aided by two extraordinarily fluid and expressive performances, realizes this aim with little hypocrisy.

  • Likely to be the year’s most significant antidote to the airbrushed (by Hallmark) perversity promised by Fifty Shades of Gray, Strickland’s third feature is another instant classic written and directed by the Budapest-based English filmmaker.

  • Peter Strickland’s third feature, which I saw first at the Toronto film festival, is an initially confounding, and meticulously fashioned, attempt to take a story that 70s sexploitation films might have played for titillation, and make a genuine relationship drama about two people.

  • Far from being mere pastiche or parody, the film manifests Strickland’s rigorous regard for the form and determination to both honor and elevate it. With deeply committed performances (particularly from Knudsen, masterfully limning the helplessness underlying her stoic demeanor), The Duke of Burgundy holds the viewer as riveted and exposed as a butterfly pinned to a board.

  • The Duke is committed to studying the pragmatics of organized perversion, and while some will point out the superficial debts to the sleaze opuses of Jess Franco, the shameless fetishism, amour fou, and emphasis on the mysteries of sexual function are far more indebted to Buñuel—an homage made overt by the inclusion of one “Dr. Viridiana” among the congregated lepidoptera enthusiasts.

  • No surprise that the M in S&M calls the shots, or indeed that the dynamic turns inward and collapses into avant-garde, though the dream sequence (seemingly taking place in a loved one's vagina) still startles. Wish it did more for me emotionally, but it's certainly exquisite.

  • After paying elaborate tribute to Italian “giallo” horror films in his 2012 “Berberian Sound Studio,” British director Peter Strickland applies much the same formula to the high-toned Euro sexploitation pics of the 1960s and ‘70s in “The Duke of Burgundy,” here with even more striking, singular results. [It's] an act of cinephilic homage that transcends pastiche to become its own uniquely sensuous cinematic object.

  • For all the abstruseness here about moths, safe words, skeletons and sadomasochism... there’s something melancholy about Evelyn and Chiara’s rigorous, elaborate, and absurd bedroom gamesmanship, which finally seems an attempt to control the waxing and waning passions between committedly monogamous partners. Desire as an infernal loop—come to think of it, it’s very Belle de Jour.

  • No one’s tried a film like this in a long, long time... Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, from 1972, is the most obvious thing that comes to mind. But so does Victor Erice’s very different The Spirit of the Beehive from ’76, in which two little girls fall into an obsession with Frankenstein. The psychological complexity of Fassbinder’s cold, neurotic movie and the strange warmth and entomology of Erice’s are made formally complex with Strickland.

  • Perhaps the major discovery of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, The Duke of Burgundy is a Certified Copy riff for the S&M crowd, Strickland’s third feature cementing his status as a world talent while also assimilating shades of early Fassbinder and a diffuse (but palpable) giallo atmosphere into its cheeky exploration of relationships and their performative nature.

  • It is hardly coincidental that the film and its protagonists, are fixated on insects. Bugs flourish, filling the world with copies of themselves, but none of them have the benefit of longevity. We, on the other hand, are around for a relatively long time. We don't mate and immediately die, so we are forced to be creative, to generate lust and beauty and curiosity that goes beyond the initial attraction that, regardless of the object of our desire, is a vestige from our animal urges.

  • The kinky cinematic escapade you should see on Valentine’s Day is British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s wildly elusive The Duke of Burgundy, a beguiling and gorgeously shot love story between two women set in a forested alternate universe where men don’t exist. It feels transported directly from the projection booth of a broken-down 1970s art-house cinema.

  • The televisual sheen makes sense: halfway between Evelyn's glossy, film-based reference points and Cynthia's decidedly out-of-body, hitting-her-marks response — visual compromise between what's in Evelyn's head (more or less realized in reality) and Cynthia's far less enraptured participation. Visual compromise = relationship compromise, and there's your movie. I don't think Strickland intended any of this, but sometimes this is what I have to do to make a movie work for me.

  • The Eastern European tinge to the design, costumes, and vague setting of the film recalls Czech and Hungarian classics like Morgiana, Szindbad, and Daisies. But the rare humor and the scopophilic imagery (windows, kaleidoscopes, peepholes) serve to illuminate and elucidate the subject at the film’s core: the two lovers’ delicate, demanding, and potentially tragic relationship.

  • Less meta-layered [than Berberian Sound Studio], it’s also warmer, sexier and funnier. An expert of mood, Strickland can lose himself in the texture of aroused flesh or hardwood floors yet he never loses sight of his sapphic characters or the gentle joke underlying their sex-games, a deadpan reminder that a whole lot of hard work goes into any good, kinky relationship.

  • There's something slightly depressing about Strickland’s idea, taking the most outré and stylish genres... and infusing them with banal middle-age anxieties. Burgundy isn't really for fans of softcore naughtiness, so much as their parents. Regardless, you get the sense that if Strickland had set his movie on some couch in Brooklyn, it would work as well. He's sensitive to romantic sadness and the creep of cooling ardor; the film has a traditional appeal that's wholly separate from its surface.

  • Why am I not crazier about the film? It certainly is, at least, a mildly seductive exercise in sound and vision; but while the visuals are always arresting, they are rarely entirely compelling. As much admiration as I had for Strickland’s vision (ably captured by cinematographer Nicholas D. Knowland), there was also something about it that struck me as rather fussy.

  • Kinky but never salacious, The Duke of Burgundy is a penetrating dissection of an imbalanced relationship before it shifts into being a surreal, teasingly nightmarish evocation of that imbalance, and it’s more fascinating as the former than the latter.

  • Strickland indulges his every aesthetic fetish – ‘70s Euro softcore, Bunuelian absurdism, Stan Brakhage! – and has great fun doing so, but watching The Duke of Burgundy is a bit like link-hopping on YouTube. As with I Am Here, the film’s best moments are, in fact, the simplest to reproduce.

  • As in Berberian, Strickland loves using off-screen space and leaving matters to the viewer’s imagination, though here the restraint seems overcautious and even prudish, and when he finally dissolves Burgundy into a dither of effects, he doesn’t have Berberian’s film-within-a-film conceit to justify the unraveling.

  • This entomological counter-story is merely a detour that allows Strickland to point to a subject that he never tackles openly—only addressing it from a safe comfort-zone. He generates an arty respectability denied to the sexploitation flicks constituting one of his principal reference points—films that, at least, were honest enough to deal with sex and eroticism without avoiding their depiction.

  • Fissures in the couple’s relationship appear as Evelyn’s demands for scheduled abuse grow increasingly stringent, raising the suspense effectively, if belatedly. Portentous images of insects both living and preserved are as heavy-handed as the erotic psychology is flimsy; the movie is as sexy as a chess game and as insightful as a catalogue. One line of dialogue enters the anthology of howlers: “Had I ordered a human toilet, none of this would have happened.”

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