The Duke of Burgundy
London Film Festival: Peter Strickland takes a typically idiosyncratic look at a tortured love affair
'You can pin and mount me like a butterfly,' sang Morrissey in The Smiths' 'Reel Around the Fountain'. It's a line that seems tailor-made for Peter Strickland's latest, a pleasingly original yet playfully retro romance set in an undisclosed European city. As Berberian Sound Studio took us behind the scenes of a giallo horror, laying bare the tricks of the trade, The Duke of Burgundy tears down the facade of a sadomasochist relationship, exposing the vulnerability and crippling anxiety behind the leather and lasciviousness, while tempering its turmoil with a surprisingly amount of wit.
Encircled by an ethereal, Wicker Man-evoking score from Cat's Eyes and appearing to us through a dreamy haze, The Duke of Burgundy is grounded by earnest work from Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen) and Chiara D'Anna (Berberian Sound Studio). They play lovers Cynthia and Evelyn who share a passion for the collection and study of winged insects, and who themselves live a somewhat cocooned existence. Their relationship at first appears to be that of cruel mistress and compliant servant before these are revealed as characters from their regular role play, with the younger, spoilt Evelyn showing an insatiable, possibly dangerous appetite for being dominated, alongside a wandering eye.
In crafting his third narrative feature, British writer-director Strickland set out to resuscitate 70s erotic cinema and was inspired by the work of Jesús 'Jess' Franco (Vampyros Lesbos). He gives us a world inhabited only by women, with Cynthia and Evelyn's twisted love affair nicely countered by woozily romantic cinematography and strikingly sensitive performances. Strickland imaginatively illustrates the repetitive, and – for one party at least – wearying nature of these kinky rituals, and shows how the discontent and darkness that bubbles beneath their skewed dynamic threatens to corrupt and consume the couple's love. The irreverent vein of humour provides welcome respite from the tortured relationship whilst the film's sensual, prosaic and macabre imagery coalesce to entertaining, often intoxicating effect.
Screening on Thu 9, Fri 10 and Sun 19 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release TBC.