The Duke of Burgundy (2014)


Appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival last year before hitting the UK market in 2015, I had heard a lot about this film in the last several months and got myself round to seeing what it’s all about not too long ago. Some had said it’s the better choice to Fifty Shades others commented on it’s unique storytelling, I can see both but also come in feeling a little lost to the weird texture presented.

Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is a maid in the home of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). If the younger Evelyn doesn’t complete tasks properly or to Cynthia’s satisfaction she is subjected to punishment but through the film we see that this strained relationship isn’t exactly a one way street.

I really like the beginning and the way we come into the environment. The dappled sun, butterflies and bicycles. It feels utterly European and bursting with a warm nature yet it somehow tingles with a mysterious darkness at the same time. I also enjoyed how the pairing changes once we realise the truth of what is going on. The character development and relationship drama is pitched brilliantly and you buy into this odd yet clearly passionate couple.

Peter Strickland writes and directs a genuinely interesting movie that deals with eroticism and behaviour in a detailed and artistic way. The dialogue between the two is fraught when necessary and very believable in the issues they face playing the slave/master routine, E.L James should really take any writing course just so she knows how people speak to each other and what constitutes engaging talk.

Strickland also directs with an eye for not losing any substance, obviously this kind of narrative could have been lost under another director keen to show off the arty farty mode of filmography but he doesn’t, yes there are still weird little moments that make it feel like a foreign feature even though it isn’t, but overall he makes sure the story of love and passion is never lost to the wind.

It has to be said that the music through the film helps a lot in creating that sense of intrigue and realistic relationship ideas. Cat’s Eyes are an alt pop duo and they give this feature a fantastic otherworldly and calm soundtrack. Once again, the opening is such a great introduction to the world because of it’s look and it’s music. There’s also a haunting vibe to the vocals that softly pulls you into this world unlike the often pathetic songs used in ’50 Shades of Grey’ that seemed more about getting big names than thinking how the music could fit the plot.

There’s perhaps too long a focus on the butterfly side of proceedings, their classes are fine but go on too long, the shot of slow motion butterflies against a black screen doesn’t seem to cut away for an eternity providing no real weight or metaphor to the film. I must also say I found the film often lulling in the points I expected to be gripped.

The two females are fantastic and this film stomps all over the Bechdel Test having only women, speaking about subjects aside from men. It’s refreshing to see a movie do it and it shows that a good film without men is possible…shock horror! D’Anna plays the curious Evelyn really well, a tinge of youth and sadness in her eye as she’s the maid but a more assured domineering posture settles as she takes charge and wants more items for the house. Knudsen is the more rewarding of the two to watch I felt, her character becomes great to watch as she struggles to face the relationship she’s becoming a part of.

I would recommend it to certain friends and for people wanting to see something different, it’s not entertaining or wholly stupendous but it’s a gorgeous and well told story about passion.



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