A world in which only women exist and a question as to whether The Duke of Burgundy is a lesbian film or not.
British director Peter Strikeland engages the audience with stimulating visuals that thrive on uniquely attractive women with idiosyncratic tendencies. The surrealism and Giallo atmosphere seen in his previous film Berberian Sound Studio remain in this sinister tale of love.
Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a well to do academic with an interest in entomology, the study of insects. Her lover is Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) a young woman who constantly protests her love for Cynthia.
The two women indulge in a passionate relationship primarily around sado-masochistic role-play which is repeated daily. Evelyn is insatiable, she thrives in the world of fetishism and her sexual desires are fuelled by her love for Cynthia. She expects the routine to be maintained. Cynthia on the other hand begins to tire, and as she falls deeper in love with Evelyn, she fears that love isn’t enough to keep her young girlfriend happy. She begins to question her ability to satisfy Evelyn’s sexual requests in what transforms into fabricated foreplay.
The Duke of Burgundy is a love story about two people growing closer together and surviving in an isolated world where only they exist. It’s about maintaining the passion and making sacrifices. But there are other themes to be explored. Cynthia is an older woman trying to satisfy a young Evelyn. She’s also the breadwinner. There are moments of humiliation as they struggle to keep each other happy, slowly secluding one another. Then there’s the question of the other woman.
The story is unoriginal but it does pose a question as to whether all lesbians are into S&M, luxurious lingerie, butterflies and moths. It’s in a similar vein to film Blue is the Warmest Colour, portraying sex scenes that often contain imagery of a fetish nature. Not all lesbians are into the fetish world and it seems to be a sweeping cinematic generalisation that movies about gays or lesbians have to feature themes of S&M.
Through the mediocre story however, comes a mesmerising film with beautiful sexually liberated women and a bond that requires going full circle to find the answer.
As a friend once said, love should be recognised as a disease. Another said that one person is never enough to satisfy the human condition.
The Duke of Burgundy is a luxurious to watch. Strikeland creates captivating visuals that make up for a weak story. It is almost art-house pastiche. But if you loved Berberian Sound Studio the chances are you will love The Duke of Burgundy. Heading for cult classic status it takes you on a journey where passion is the centre of the world and finding the key to a woman’s heart is as difficult for women as it is for men.