Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Duke Of Burgundy (2014) Film Review
The Duke Of Burgundy
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
Beginning with a soft saturated Seventies slowness, colour and credits combined to evoke a particular era, a particular place, a particular vision of a place and time that is not. Somewhat European hills and somewhat European halls; brushes sweeping steps and porches, vinyl records of insect calls.
The Duke Of Burgundy is delicate, constructed, poised; a piece of naturalistic beauty with all the authentic artificiality of wings pinioned while drying by small pieces of paper, a needle through the heart that wrenches. It is minimal, colourful, even playful, terrific; and it is not for everyone.
If you see this film and if you love it you will tell perhaps a dozen people that they should see it and you will be right to, and they perhaps will have some of their own dozen who do not overlap with your own who they will tell. You will exercise judgement. You will not tell the person who will gasp incredulously when they see the minimal cast followed by the common names and Latin names of the entomological array that populates this tale. You will not tell the person who will laugh at the credit for a song by Nurse With Wound, nor indeed will you tell the person who will snigger at the 'Human Toilet Consultants'. You will not tell the person who cannot look past a burst of flashing images that recalls experimental cinema, a sqaull of noise that builds but like any barrier of sound can be broken by something well designed to reveal something beyond. You will not tell the person who will nag and niggle at this valley of female lepidopterists, this sapphic bicycle autumn that unfolds in umbers and golds, blown leaves and beating wings. You will not tell them because they do not need to know. You might.
Sidse Babett Knudsen is Cynthia, Chiara D'Anna is Evelyn. Evelyn rides her bicycle to Cynthia's door, knocks, waits. She is late, Cynthia tells her. There is a scenario that unfolds, repeats, adapts. It is a series of moments, pictures, attitudes, sounds - what sounds. Writer/director Peter Strickland wrote/directed Berberian Sound Studio and that same meticulousness is here. There is craft in cutting and costume, the sussurus of skirt on stocking a signal of something subtle, sexual, significant.
Cynthia and Evelyn are engaged in a romance. Yes, there are sadomasochistic elements, indeed, there is a whole vocabulary one could deploy to describe it and if one were possessed of that vocabulary one might well be one of those dozen who will be told. Evelyn is "topping from the bottom", but for those not au fait with the argot of restraint it suffices to say that there are issues of control. Emotional, physical, behavioural, control moves and shifts as the scenario unfolds. Cynthia and Evelyn are entwined in a relationship. Yes, there are sadomasochistic elements, indeed, but they are part of a vocabulary within that relationship, a communication of need. There is a scenario that unfolds, repeats, adapts. There are little details, eyes, eye-lashes, mannequins in a lecture audience, broken sticks, gossip, ritual. This is dreamy, not oneiric, not dream-like, dreamy, rich and with a sense of material - polished leather, if not angora, blue velvet - the delicacy of exoskeletons under glass. There are meditations to be had on script and role, on the logistics of love of a certain kind, moments of anticipation. There is display, keyholes and cabinets, microscopes and mixing bowls, even the act of film itself - camera and colour.
Your reviewer recognised cinematographer Nick Nowland's name from recent short L'Assenza, demonstrating here the same eye for something closer to homage than mimicry, a look that's aided by Andrea Flesch' costume work and Pater Sparrow's production design. There are many who have worked with Strickland before, and one hopes he is building a troupe, a team, with the returnees. There is a wholeness of presentation, a competence in execution, a fitness that means all of those who contribute to the look of the film, deserve their credit - it is in the technical that the film's depth is brought forth, in edit, in focus, in intent.
It's that focus on technique that is at the heart of The Duke Of Burgundy as a film, and at the heart of its story. Cynthia and Evelyn are embarked on a relationship, and that relationships meander around means and methods rather than motives is the core. There is a scenario that unfolds, repeats, adapts. There is a scenario that unfurls, reveals, delights.Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2015