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The Duke of Burgundy

Taking place in a remote time and place vaguely reminiscent of the beginning of the last century THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY gently follows the shifting power relations of two female butterfly specialists in a loving sadomasochistic relationship.

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An almost pastoral beginning: a young woman sits near an idyllic stretch of water in the forest, listens to the ripples, and waits. She gets on her bicycle with the soft, quivering soundtrack of Cat’s Eyes caressing her and rides through the autumnal grove and an old village. The image freezes and turns deep red and the title sequence appears in a typeface fit for a 70s soft porn.

Peter Strickland creates sensual and puzzling images and lead us into a delicate narrative cosmos that seems to exist somewhere beyond time yet also manages to trigger wistful nostalgia.

The woman on the bike is Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) who, to all appearances, seems to be the maid of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and cleans under the strict guidelines of her mistress. Here, in this secluded house near the forest, a film unfolds like a larval turning into a butterfly. It’s a dreamy, gliding metamorphosis film. There’s a small hint that alludes to it not being an abusive working relationship: Cynthia carefully prepares for her performance as the lady of the house. Evelyn is careless about cleaning the boots and keeps eyeing the door. It becomes clear when Cynthia takes Evelyn to the lavatory as punishment and the “punishment” is only heard not seen. DUKE is an exceptionally subdued, soft, and affectionate film.

An agreed upon sado-masochistic séance. The authoritative distance between Cynthia and Evelyn is an act. They are a couple, two butterfly researchers in a time and world that’s not quite our own. The furnishings hint at the late 19th or early 20th century (barring the plastic record player) and men don’t exist in this world filled with only a forest and other butterfly researchers. There is an excess of décor though, to be sure, that the softly gliding camera (Nicholas D. Knowland) makes us feel like we can touch what is on-screen. The film revolts against the prognosticated loss of the object world in the virtualized age, in a certain way.

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is a meticulous, wonderfully gentle, and incredibly sad exploration into an emotionally abusive relationship with an imbalance of satisfied needs. Not only is it incredibly sensitive when it comes to the complexities of a sadomasochistic relationship, but it is also imbued with aesthetic aplomb. Like BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, the cinema of the 70s is both the background noise and the tool box. Strickland helps himself to auteur and paracinema and creates a contemporary art fairytale. Strickland’s influences are Jess Franco and Fassbinder, Stan Brakhage and Juraj Herz, Harry Kümel and León Klimosvky – but his films are more than derivative copies.

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is a film that deals with surrendering yourself with every fibre in your body and the pain that comes from that. A film filled with mirrored crystal images and charming sounds that get under your skin and practically demands that cinema should be savored with all of one’s body. A bittersweet masterpiece that looks to the past and holds out the prospect for a future of meta-modern cinema.

Thomas Groh

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Großbritannien 2014, 104 min
Genre: Psychodrama
Director: Peter Strickland
Author: Peter Strickland
DOP: Nicholas D. Knowland
Montage: Matyas Fekete
Distributor: Salzgeber
Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D`Anna, Eugenia Caruso, Monica Swinn, Fatma Mohamed
FSK: 16
Release: 03.12.2015

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Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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