Review: The Duke of Burgundy

The good folks at Shout Factory are releasing a pristine Blu-ray/DVD combo of Peter Strickland’s brilliant erotic fantasy, The Duke of Burgundy, in September. It is a must-own for any serious film buff.

The Duke of Burgundy’s opening moments set the tone for the rest of the piece, as a woman cycles through a neighborhood that looks like something out of a fairy tale, or perhaps a scene from a European art film from the seventies. The ethereal score from Cat’s Eyes swells on the soundtrack. We’re never quite sure of the time in which the film is set, but make no mistake – Strickland has created an entire world here, a place where anything is possible.

The Duke of Burgundy tells the tale of the aforementioned young lady, Evelyn, and her lover, a much older woman named Cynthia. The two are involved in a consensual dom/sub relationship, and live a life revolving around ritualistic fantasies and a mutual love of entomology. Cynthia is a professor whose passion is the study of insects, particularly butterflies. Evelyn has an insatiable sexual appetite, and as her demands in the bedroom become increasingly unorthodox, Cynthia begins to feel a disconnect that will prove to be a challenge.

Dreams and reality collide in The Duke of Burgundy in ways that are both sinister and hypnotic. It’s like “Fifty Shades of Grey” by way of some miraculous collaboration from David Lynch and The Quay Brothers. We could make comparisons all day long, but it must be said that this is a purely original vision from Strickland. There are sequences of extravagant beauty and horror within that are seared in my memory forever. I am thankful for that.

The two lead performances from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna are fantastic. They truly bring these characters to vibrant life and are totally committed to the craft. The Duke of Burgundy approaches the subject of a lesbian BDSM relationship with maturity, without ever revealing too much while never holding anything back. This is not to say that the film is “safe”. It is anything but. There are moments that will shock the audience, and while nothing here could be defined as explicit, it is the power of what is suggested that gives the film its punch. It is a delicate balancing act for a film that could have ended up as a mere exploitation piece, but thankfully, we are in good hands. There is a true intellectual at the helm of this project, and it will be pondered over and analyzed for years to come.

Also, it should be noted that there are no men in this film. Not one.

When you get the opportunity to see The Duke of Burgundy, take it. You will not regret it. Purchase Shout Factory’s new release. You’ll be glad that you did.

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