Sunday 26 April 2015

DVD Review: The Duke of Burgundy

Year: 2014 (DVD Release Date: 2015)
Director: Peter Strickland
Screenplay: Peter Strickland
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna

It’s funny to see The Duke of Burgundy released now as the budding blossoms of Spring begin to bloom. The film, set over the brisker seasons, is saturated in rich autumnal tones, appears to use the chilled temperatures to hide the warmth the film creates. With the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey (opened during the chilly month of February) using a damp, overcast Vancouver, Washington as its setting, both films appear to slyly hint that while there may be no heat outside, things are definitely heated in the respective bedrooms of each films couples.

This is a slightly tawdry way to describe both films. Yet whereas Fifty Shades would wear such a tag as badge of honour, stifling giggles as it describes sexual relationships. The Duke of Burgundy, while described as “preposterous” by its own director, Peter Strickland, understands the nature of its sexual games at a far more substantial level. Fifty Shades may have captured the box office, using its sex as titillation. It is The Duke of Burgundy, which ensnares the imagination. The film's sexual sequences not only understand that less is more. The film as a whole, understands its themes far more than E. L James’ material. Both highlight dominance and submission as the main erotic practices of one particular partner. Only The Duke of Burgundy truly grasps just how tough the rigors are if trust and understanding are not involved.

That may not be what Fifty Shades was aiming for, but I’m not surprised that people have come towards The Duke of Burgundy with more favour. With no authoritarians to get in the way of the film's creation, director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) is free to roam within the sensual landscape of his central characters and their eroticism.  

The film; a loving homage to the soft-core euro erotica of the 60’s and 70’s details the relationship and rituals of Cynthia (Chiara D'Anna) and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna). The couple are entomology students whose love for butterflies and insects is only bettered by their affection for each other. Each day they embark on a D/s routine that slowly erodes the couple relationship as one partner’s sexual mores become more obsessive.

Amusingly, the bare bones of the film aren’t too dissimilar from Fifty Shades. However Strickland’s skillful direction, makes exemplary use of form. Consider the fact that despite being a homage to soft-core, there’s no nudity. We see no men, yet this does not distract or deter the narrative in any way. The film's luscious visuals and high quality sound work, capture the sexual texture more than the typical, vanilla happenings which occur within the so called Red Room of Pain. Strickland’s film has a wonderful understanding of anticipation. The removal of stockings and tightness of pencil skirts do more to entice than flesh.

Beyond that, The Duke of Burgundy is a film that relies on convincing performances. Both Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D'Anna are note perfect in their portrayal of a loving relationship coming under conflict due to wariness and obsessives. Although both play their parts straight, there’s clear allowance for subtle humour throughout. Even easy gags, such as the comfortably of sitting on someone’s face, are smartly delivered. Mostly due to the couples, quiet unflinching expression. Although I’m not sure if people will react as rambunctiously as I did when it came to the films (offscreen) urination sequence.

What both Kundsen and D’Anna mostly exude, however, is heart. The warmth of their relationship is tenderly observed, whereas in Fifty Shades, sometimes remained as cold as its overcast location.  It’s no surprise that the front cover for The Duke of Burgandy’s DVD mimics the most iconic image of Bergman’s Persona (1966).  It is indeed the dovetailing synchronicity of two people in love that we are meant to observe here. How often do we watch films of romance and find them lacking in such aspects? The Duke of Burgundy may lose some when it delves into the abstract (apart from the obvious metaphor, one may wonder about the butterflies). However, unlike Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland’s piece stays relatively sound from a narrative perspective. While retaining the auteurist tics (such as his analogue love of sound and looping of recurring events) that punctuate his filmmaking.

In the world of sexual melodramas, the almighty dollar is king. It’s difficult to see fans of Fifty Shades jumping their cruise ship to navigate choppier waters. However who may have found the antics of Grey and Steele lacking somewhat, may find something a touch more scintillating with Cynthia and Evelyn. With this couple's ability to read each other’s face, there’s very little need for a non-disclosure agreement.   

THE LOST INTERVIEWS - House of Flying Daggers - 23.4.15

itunes pic
In the final 'lost interview' from last year, Tony talks to writer & vlogger Tom East about his favourite film, House of Flying Daggers...

from Black Hole Cinema