The Duke of Burgundy

Directed by Peter Strickland

Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen and  Chiara D’Anna
In US Cinemas January 23rd, 2015 (Limited)

by Joanna Orland

Director Peter Strickland follows the darkly abstract, critically acclaimed Berberian Sound Studio with the dreamlike, incredibly stylized The Duke of Burgundy.  This film is a visual and aural feast, more so than his previous film which utilizes audio in particular to create its mood.  The Duke of Burgundy is much more palatable and interesting than Strickland’s former work.  Abstractness once again prominent, The Duke of Burgundy however also manages to explore the relationship between two lovers as they test each other to the limit.

Sidse Babett Knudsen is remarkable.  Her portrayal of Cynthia is both cold and dominating, yet sensitive and vulnerable.  Cynthia studies butterflies and moths, Evelyn (D’Anna) is her student and lesbian lover.  Evelyn demands that Cynthia express her love through sado-masochistic role play in which Evelyn is being dominated by Cynthia.  Once the audience realizes that this relationship is merely role-play, words and actions that meant one thing are suddenly meaning something much more sinister.

Their relationship begins to unravel as Cynthia is clearly not comfortable in the dominant role.  There are moments of humour in this otherwise stylized tale as Cynthia practices her routine of dominance.  After much performance, Cynthia begins to tire of this routine and yearns for a relationship with Evelyn which is based in their reality.

This film is anything but based in reality.  The decadent visuals are erotically sensual, even the opening titles imply so as they credit “perfume by Je Suis Gizella”.  Much as Cynthia’s expression of dominance, everything is over the top in this film, and beautifully so.  With a very 1970’s European feel, the film strays into psychedelic territory, Lynchian in nature, but sexualized through and through.  While erotic to the core, it is tastefully so and a masterful work of art.


Leave a Reply