28th Apr2015

‘The Duke of Burgundy’ DVD Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna, Fatma Mohamed, Monica Swinn, Eugenia Caruso, Kata Bartsch, Zita Kraszkó, Eszter Tompa | Written and Directed by Peter Strickland


Love isn’t easy, we all know this.  When two people fall for each other the relationship require a bit of give and take until the two parties find a common place and that comfort that makes the relationship work.  The Duke of Burgundy is a movie that looks at this in both a metaphorical and physical way, pushing the boundaries of what two people can tolerate in the name of love.

It’s no surprise to hear that The Duke of Burgundy comes from Peter Strickland, the writer and director of Berberian Sound Studio – the styles are very similar and recognisable.  In this film though instead of the focus on sound, the focus is very visual and intense, though never revealing too much.  Strickland’s ability to tease the audience with what they can’t see, rather than throwing it in their faces is what keeps the films impact visually more subtle and in many ways allows him to get away with more than a more sensationalist movie would.

In the movie we have the two main characters Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna).  While secondary characters do play a role in the film, they are more background or to further the intensity between the main character and to highlight the problems within the relationship.  The Duke of Burgundy is a movie about balance, with the main problem for the characters being the fact that this balance will never be perfect, it always flows from one way to the other in a constant fight for synchronicity.

The fact that the audience is introduced to Cynthia as a servant seemingly abused by Evelyn puts them off-balance, especially when all is not what it seems.  It’s hard to not spoil the main premise of the movie, but it is fair to say that the relationship that Cynthia and Evelyn have is both consuming and loving.  While Cynthia has the desire to be dominated and abused, it has to be on her own terms.  Evelyn the older of the two has a desire to be adored and cared for, which while she does achieve it is never enough to feel her fulfilled.  This constant battle between the two contradicting desires is like the battle of a moth around a flame, which is why the focus on moths in the movie is not just a random occurrence, even the name The Duke of Burgundy is the name of a moth.

The fact that the movie was born out of the plan to remake a Jess Franco film is a hint to the style that The Duke of Burgundy is made.  There are many scenes in which domination becomes the main focus, but this doesn’t have to result in nudity to get its point across.  The fact is the domination is more about the force than just the desire to show some flesh to the audience.  There is almost a suffocating need from Cynthia to be dominated, but in truth that control is in her hands, the minute she loses that control it loses its effect.  Love like a flame can be all-consuming, and that is the battle in The Duke of Burgundy that takes no prisoners.  Either it consumes them or it fades away, the balance has to be found.

I am yet to see 50 Shades of Grey, but I do plan to review it, but it is interesting to look at that movie and compare it to The Duke of Burgundy as they came out in the same year and focus on the same themes.  While Shades of Grey tends to glamorise the domination, The Duke of Burgundy uses the same themes yet in a more stylistic and emotionally impactful way.  Maybe the people who enjoyed the tales of Mr Grey should take a look at The Duke of Burgundy, though I tend to think this may not be to their tastes.  Retro in style yet ageless in impact it looks at the destructive nature of love and desire where there is no grey area.  Subtle and beautiful this is an example of film at its best.

***** 5/5

The Duke of Burgundy is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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