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Film Review: The Duke of Burgundy

Film Review: The Duke of Burgundy
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Photo by Independent Cinema Office.

Films exploring sexual taboos are all the rage at the moment, with the release of Shame in 2011, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac in 2013 and Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentine’s Day this year. Just under a week late to the Valentine’s party is Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy.  Unlike its class of 2015 counterpart, Strickland’s offering adds substance to the genre of erotic cinema.

The story follows two women, Cynthia and Evelyn, through their fetish-dominated relationship. At first, Cynthia appears to be in total control of the relationship as she plays the role of a dominatrix, forcing Evelyn to do her household chores with the threat of “punishment”. As the plot unfolds however, we discover that their power-relations are not as clear-cut as we first thought, and that the demands of passion can take their toll on a relationship.

Sensual, troubled and compelling, Sidse Babett Knudsen, of TV’s Borgen fame, gives a strong performance as Cynthia in her first English language role (although her accent is perfect). Meanwhile, Chiara D’Anna plays the demanding and unflinchingly kinky Evelyn with aplomb in her second collaboration with Peter Strickland.

As for the film itself, it is beautifully shot in an autumnal, rustic-European village setting. Strickland’s use of light plays a crucial role as we distinguish between the regular daytime activities of the couple and their dark secrets as soon as night falls. There is always the sense that at any moment the narrative could turn into a supernatural horror. A particular highlight of the cinematography is the close-up of soap-bubbles popping, which is visually and audibly telling of the never-ending sexual tension bubbling under the surface of the film.

The Duke of Burgundy also marks an important shift in erotic cinema. First and foremost, there are no men in the film. Secondly, there is no nudity. Essentially, this means that the women are not objectified (on screen at least) and that the film truly focuses on the love story at its heart. All of which is quite refreshing in a genre that is often dominated by breasts, bums and domineering men.

If you want to see Jamie Dornan’s body, this isn’t the film for you. However, if you want a deliciously shot and captivating love story, look no further than The Duke of Burgundy.

The Duke of Burgundy is on at Curzon, Canterbury from Saturday 21-26 February. 

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