Review: The Duke of Burgundy @ Cornerhouse

Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen of Borgen fame) are two moth-crossed lovers, engaging in a delicate dance. But their relationship is quickly revealed to be much more complex than you might initially expect.

The Duke of Burgundy takes place in a fairy tale world devoid of males, as far as we know, where the entire population consists of lesbian BDSM enthusiasts.

When you first meet Cynthia, she is downright mean, while Evelyn appears to be trapped in a position which she regrets.

They exist in their own sprawling pile and just beyond lies a decaying forest, with only a cat and a grouchy neighbour for company.

But this is not a simple tale about the mistress of the house and her maid. The two are engaged in a symbiotic relationship of dominance and submission.

With clockwork repetition, their interactions become scripted and uncomfortable, unlike initial expectations, and there lies the intrigue!

Their relationship is fast, and eventually, draws to its climax, which director Peter Strickland has framed in an expertly crafted spectacle.  

Surprisingly, the film is dotted with humour, which comes from the pair’s antics and the film’s background, which contains an amusing audience of mannequins.

The fusion of sensual camera work, Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and haunting music, which is as evocative of funerals as it is of eroticism, is an excellent accompaniment.

But their frolics are not for the easily offended, and there is enough material to intimidate and nauseate the viewer, without being particularly explicit. Let’s just say I wouldn’t take my grandmother!

Despite gorgeous performances and about an hour’s worth of intrigue and interest, the film does have a tendency to become tedious.

As the performance progresses, it feels increasingly difficult to re-immerse yourself in its colour, which lends itself better to being watched alone, rather than in a crowded cinema, as the slightest distraction can throw you out of the film.

The Duke of Burgundy is showing at the Cornerhouse until Thursday March 5.

You can purchase tickets here

image courtesy of ArtificialEyeFilm via Youtube, with thanks

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