*Review originally posted on letterboxd and expanded for my blog.
Written and directed by Peter Strickland, The Duke of Burgundy (2014), is an erotic melodrama which centres on the relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn, a lepidopterist and her younger lover. Taking visual and atmospheric cues from gothic horror and other films of the ’60s and ’70s it is a lush and romantic (and Romantic) film exploring the tensions between the two lovers as Cynthia is unable to satisfy Evelyn in the way she wishes to be. It is set in an indeterminate European town (in what could be any time), and populated entirely by women.
I had been in a strange, dreamy mood, after finishing a particularly haunting book, and this turned out to be the perfect movie to watch in that state. It is one of those films that seems to seep right into every pore, leaves you dazed (and I shall stop myself before I get too…poetic about it all. I have a tendency to do that, as evidenced in my Superman Returns review). I went into it not knowing very much, which I don’t always like, but it worked well for me this time. (I’ve tried not to give too much away in this review).
It’s a beautiful, sensual film and it moved me deeply. Maybe one of the most romantic and believable films I’ve seen in some time. It manages to explore what is still an unconventional relationship to many in a way that is not shocking but still revelatory. I felt completely immersed in the film but there was still a slight sense of removal watching it all unfold. I have to admit, I haven’t seen a lot of films that deal with BDSM in a relationship but I thought this did so well and respectfully. I think it was the first I’ve seen that showed that the scenes were actually negotiated (or, at least, requested) in advance.
The visuals are stunning; I’m a sucker for mirrors/reflections, distorted and refracted images, etc., which can be overdone but Strickland utilised these tricks well. The crisp colours, perfect costumes and picturesque settings rounded it out nicely in creating the atmosphere.
Oh, and I have to mention the score/soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes. It is exquisite. Especially the pieces with the harpsichord and that dreamy (there’s that word again!) sighing/chanting. I’ll shamefully admit, I don’t often pay the most attention to scores, but I’ve been listening to this one on repeat since I watched the film a couple of nights ago.
The two lead actresses (Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen) were great, particularly Knudsen, who played Cynthia. Her insecurity and fear of love slipping away was eloquently acted. Evelyn had the sense of a petulant child about her at times, which worked well, but you see her tenderness too.
It is a film I can see myself revisiting in the future (probably multiple times) and would highly recommend. I’ve added the trailer below.