Monday, September 29, 2014

Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY - Javi's Take

Directed by: Peter Strickland
Written by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna, and Monica Swinn
Synopsis: An intimate look at the romantic relationship between two women.

Peter Strickland blew away Fantastic Fest audiences with the giallo aural , BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO. This year, he brought a very different type of film, DUKE OF BURGUNDY. Whereas BERBERIAN is a study of ones own reality breaking down, BURGUNDY explores the ups and down of a rather, ahem, unique relationship. 

The story follows a woman, Cynthia, who maintains a beautiful house, studies butterflies, and also happens to have a maid  Evelyn, who she likes to yell at and boss around, especially if she's not doing her job right. Thing is, Evelyn seems to like it. As we go through the story, you find that they are in fact a couple who are engaged in some elaborate sexual roleplay.

DUKE OF BURGUNDY is not a very plot heavy movie. There's maybe three major events in the movie, and they all take place in the same two locations. What makes this movie so compelling is the details of the relationship and tackling things like insecurity, aging, the age difference between Cynthia and Evelyn, and the possibility of infidelity which gives viewers a movie full of relateable (and sometimes painful) situations. 

The movie is beautifully shot with long takes and wide shots of the palatial estate where the couple resides. There are also a great number of shots with the two women reflected on surfaces and never seemingly looking at each other directly, giving the impression that while they enjoy their relationship there's a disconnect between their needs and wants.

The costume and set design is very intricate and keeps yours eyes engaged in the scenery for the entire movie. You can tell that a lot of work went into getting the look of the movie down since some of the first people credited in the movie's opening minutes are the costume and make up designers. Even the way that the characters see themselves is conveyed in their clothes with the Evelyn always dressing in white, and Cynthia dressing in black despite this not being their true nature.

Additionally, the movie is intercut with strange visuals of moths and butterflies, and there are extended periods where you hear swarms of them flapping their wings. There is a correlation between how often we see these scenes and how well the relationship is going.

DUKE OF BURGUNDY will probably be sold as a kinky lesbian S&M movie, but it's just the vehicle by which Strickland wants to explore the politics of being in a relationship despite its outlandish premise. The movie is a beautifully shot and acted with an ultimately tragic look at romance against an extraordinary premise. 

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