Duke of Burgundy (2014, Peter Strickland)

Complicated movie about a complicated relationship. I’ll bet this is fun to watch a second time. Cynthia seems an awful high-haired rich woman who mistreates her maid Evelyn, but it turns out these two are in a relationship, and Evelyn is ordering Cynthia to order Evelyn around – even providing a script for Cynthia to follow. One or both of them are lepidopterists and/or cheating with the neighbor or the custom-furniture saleswoman. I can’t tell if it has a happy ending – or if it has an ending, or simply loops back on itself. It has sensuous atmosphere in spades – no shit, from the director of Berberian Sound Studio. I like what he does, the hermetic cinephile worlds he creates, but never seem to fall in love with the films.

Sidse Knudsen (Borgen, After The Wedding) is Cynthia and Chiara D’Anna (a tormented actress in Berberian Sound Studio) is Evelyn. Shout out to Buñuel – one of the few auxillary characters is named Dr. Viridiana.

Uses songs by Flying Saucer Attack and Nurse With Wound. Great credits, with Human Toilet Consultants, recording notes on all the insect audio (“Gryllotalpa africana: recorded by D.R. Ragge & W.J. Reynolds on 21st May 1974 at 14:00 hours on a nagra 4d tape recorder and sennheiser mkh 405 microphone in very dim light at 25 degrees centigrade”), and this right after the human cast:

J. Teodoro for Cinema Scope:

Though not used as a one-to-one metaphor, the shadows that will soon enter Evelyn and Cynthia’s perverts’ paradise are telegraphed in The Duke‘s hallucinatory images of butterflies, pinned, with labial wings spread, neatly contained in frames and displayed in seemingly infinite rows, their ornate patterning and careful classification rhyming with Evelyn’s carefully composed erotic scripts – written in an elegant calligraphic hand – to which Cynthia is meant to scrupulously adhere.

M. D’Angelo:

Strickland is clearly a heavy-duty cinephile—Berberian Sound Studio paid tribute to Italian giallo, and there’s a dream sequence here that includes an homage to Stan Brakhage’s avant-garde short Mothlight — and he has a lot of fun early on establishing the parameters of his Eurotrash softcore aesthetic. The movies he’s ostensibly aping, however, took place in an erotically exaggerated version of the real world, whereas The Duke Of Burgundy dispenses with literally anything that doesn’t meet the needs of its story. Other women are seen from time to time, but nobody does anything resembling “normal” work; the entire population appears to consist of amateur lepidopterists, who gather regularly to take turns giving lectures on various species of butterflies and moths.

In a BFI interview Strickland lists influences: Mothlight, Morgiana (1972), Belle de Jour, A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973), Mano Destra (1986) and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

The inclusion of an obscure reference done in an obvious fashion can be precarious in terms of what that reveals about a director’s motivations. At worst, the act of homage is merely posing and diverting attention onto the director rather than the film, but when done organically and effectively, as with both Greenaway at his best and Tarantino, it enriches the film and places it within a wider (albeit self-imposed) lineage that can be rewarding for the curious viewer.

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