Synopsis: Day after day, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) act out a simple yet provocative ritual that ends with Evelyn’s punishment and pleasure. As Cynthia yearns for a more conventional relationship, Evelyn’s obsession with erotica quickly becomes an addiction that may push the relationship to a breaking point.
Release Date: February 13, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Period Piece
Writer/director Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio was somewhat of a sleeper hit, but it had a very slow climb to success. After being rejected by all of the big-name festivals, Strickland had an epiphany; he wanted to make something that was bare bones and low budget yet still paid tribute to the influential movies of his past. He wrote a script, gathered together a bunch of his Berberbian Sound Studio counterparts, and started shooting. The film he made is The Duke of Burgundy.
The Duke of Burgundy begins with a young woman named Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna, one of Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio actresses) getting a job as a maid for an upper-class lady named Cynthia (After the Wedding‘s Sidse Babett Knuden). Cynthia, a renowned butterfly researcher, is cold and cruel to Evelyn, finding issue with just about every job that the young maid does around the house. The professional relationship gets strained as time goes on, until it finally gains a bit of sexual electricity. The women eventually embark on a torrid love affair full of domination, submission, bondage, and punishment.
That’s pretty much all that one should know about The Duke of Burgundy before seeing it. There’s not a ton of story in the film, but there are a few key reveals that are better left out of any review of the movie. The film is sexy and seductive, but in a very chaste way; there is no nudity, and the sex is mostly implied, either occurring off-screen or hidden from view by selective camera angles. Still, there is a certain air of the forbidden that is cast over the film, sort of like the viewer is privy to events that they shouldn’t be seeing. It’s all very exciting…for a film in which very little happens.
The Duke of Burgundy gives the impression that it’s being made up as it goes along. It’s beautifully shot and well-acted, but there’s not really much of a coherent story. It’s weird and artsy, consisting of a bunch of breathtaking imagery tied together by a very thin plot. Even the genre is a bit left-of-center, falling somewhere between a kinky romance picture and a psychological horror movie. There are many subtle (and some not-so-subtle) winks and nods towards other films, but The Duke of Burgundy gives the impression that Strickland knows exactly what he’s doing with his filmic references – he’s very adept at recalling so many other films while still having The Duke of Burgundy remain its own entity.
Although the time period in which the film is set is never made clear, The Duke of Burgundy has the definite feel of a European film made in the sixties, right down to the primary-colored freeze-frame opening credit sequence. Cinematographer Nicholas D. Knowland (another one of Strickland’s guys from Berberian Sound Studio) uses some really stunning photography to make the film look like an authentic retro-throwback British picture. The whole film is shot with a dark, dank look and a muted color palette that just screams period piece. Many of the scenes are shot in soft focus, with dust or fog permeating the backlit set, so that the entire film looks purposefully dated. Strickland and Knowland break the monotony of the naturally lit rooms and streets by interspersing carefully selected and ingeniously photographed macro shots of important images into the film, shots of things like the dead butterflies in Cynthia’s study or a soap bubble in Evelyn’s soaking laundry sink. It’s all very artsy and pretentious, but it somehow works. The Duke of Burgundy is a beautiful looking film.
The musical score for The Duke of Burgundy just adds to the retro period feel of the film. The soundtrack was composed by Cat’s Eye, a duo consisting of rock vocalist Faris Badwan (from the English band The Horrors) and Canadian soprano/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira. The old-soul classical music is full of flutes and strings, with just enough harpsichord to give it a percussive vibe. There are a few areas with vocals – either full lyrical pieces or just choral oohs and aahs – that further add to the score’s almost renaissance sound. It’s an interesting soundtrack, a breath of fresh air that stands in contrast to most film music, and the score could very easily stand on its own merits as a new age record. Cat’s Eye’s score for The Duke of Burgundy is a collection of moody and atmospheric music for a very moody and atmospheric movie.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Peter Strickland
- Screenwriter(s): Peter Strickland
- Cast: Chiara D’Anna (Cynthia)Sidse Babett Knudsen (Cynthia)
- Editor(s): Matyas Fekete
- Cinematographer: Nicholas D. Knowland
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA