The Duke of Burgundy is a 2014 British drama film written and directed by Peter Strickland, and starring Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia and Chiara D’Anna as Evelyn.
I watched this movie on the recommendation of a girl I used to see – a beautiful girl, might I add, with a sharp wit and an amazing taste in movies. I was quite taken aback to find this on Stan, and then confused to see it listed as Drama, and not in the LGBT section. Perhaps I had misunderstood what she had said? Perhaps I was getting it confused with another recommendation I had received, The Handmaiden, by Park Chan-Wook. But, not even 10 minutes in and I am satisfied that this is definitely a lesbian erotic work, and just as metaphorical as it was suggested.
I can only recall one other movie, actually, two now, that remind me of this film. The story is new to me, that of a slave and her master, and especially that of two ladies in this form. The lepidopterology is also new, and the technical detail that they go in to is quite stunning. They certainly don’t consider their viewers to be simple, a surprising breath of fresh air. It is the cinematography that is familiar, in the overlapping, pulsing use of metaphors and symbolism throughout. In this movie, there is the images of the sex tools, of mirrored objects, of butterflies and moths, and of silk. It intertwines to wrap you in its senses, one can almost touch the fabric, one can feel the beat of the moths wings. It is hypnotising. It reminds me first and foremost of The Company of Wolves, a movie that explores the subconscious desires of a young girl, overlapping with images of red riding hoods, wolves and moons. The other, a slightly longer stretch, but Upstream Colour. The only similarity in the storyline is the developing romance – though in vastly different ways. Duke of Burgundy is mainly set in a house and its grounds, with a colour scheme evoking warm wood, soft velvets and the wings of dark moths. Upstream Colour is not set anywhere in particular, rather around the happenings that a young woman, and eventually her partner experience. Colouring is cold, disconnected, stark, an obvious contrast to Duke of Burgundy. What they do have in common though is the way they tell you the story, not through direct narrative or by characters stating the obvious in their conversations, but by showing you visually and audibly.
Duke of Burgundy doesn’t spoon feed you the plot events, or explain to you like you would to Bob, it is not simplified in any way. It unfolds before you, the music wrapping you up and taking you on a journey, embracing you in the story as if you were really there. At times you watch flashes of colour and images and, although you may be unsure of why, you are entranced, happy to remain in that state and feel the movie blossom. This is how I felt throughout The Duke of Burgundy. There is this story, it is beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes, a fire to my loins, and a craving for a beautiful girl to be near me.
Usually, when I write about movies, I can find some over-arching economic theme to tie into, or a societal value being questioned or – in some cases – bolstered. I don’t have any of this, there is no judgement to be made on the events that occured within this movie, there are no sides between characters, there is just what happened. As I watched this movie, I felt changed, like I had been shown something through a peephole. But the truth was this love had always been there, the door I imagined had been built to cover this was not real at all but some imaginary device constructed by my previous viewings and experiences. I only did not know of this as it had never been spoken of in my world, but it is as real and as natural as breathing. I love that this movie is not questioning the nature of the female relationship, of the dominatrix / submission relationship, or making out like women get ‘up to naughty things’ when they are alone. There is no perverted lens on this film, no gender bias, sexual bias, societal norm bias – This movie is about the love between two people, and their expression, back and forth, of how they love and wish to be loved in turn.
Highly recommend this movie for anyone who wishes to explore the relationship between lovers. Four and a half out of five wonderings.
Keep wondering readers,
Carruth, Shane. 2013. Upstream Colour. Film. United States: ERBP.
Chan-wook, Park. 2016. The Handmaiden. Film. South Korea: Moho Film, Yong Film.
Jordan, Neil. 1984. The Company Of Wolves. Film. United Kingdom: Palace Productions.
Strickland, Peter. 2014. The Duke Of Burgundy. Film. United Kingdom: Film4 Productions, Ripken Productions, Rook Films.