Overview: A lesbian couple who study butterflies face challenges as their unorthodox desires intensify and their relationship complicates. Artificial Eye; 2015; Unrated; 104 Minutes.
Nature: The Duke of Burgundy begins in an old fashioned town filled with massive stone estates covered with ivy in the more isolate country areas, and small stucco shops that line the cobblestone streets in the more urban parts. Although urban seems the wrong word. The whole setting has an atmosphere that can only be described as quaint. Women pedal back and forth from the forest on brisk morning jaunts. Everyone wears clothes fit for a Puritan housewife. Yet, lying underneath it all is a thick layer of sexual mystery and kink. Close ups on mundane objects reveal questionable shapes one may not have seen otherwise. Unlike a movie like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, The Duke of Burgundy isn’t interested in showing the dark underbelly of an otherwise sunny establishment inhabited by perky archetypes. Director Peter Strickland purposefully gives the film a darker and chillier autumnal tone to counteract the inherent innocence of the setting. Towards the beginning of the film, one of the main characters (played by Chiara D’Anna) looks through a dark keyhole to see her lover undressing. It is almost as if she’s looking into the film itself, finding the seedier and more titillating elements behind the door. Strickland isn’t looking to shock. The somewhat risqué subject material involving sadomasochism is treated naturally and with taste. Some of the acts are certainly odd in the eye of an outsider, but Strickland asks us to look in. To see why these people do what they do.
Shadows And Eroticism, With Some Love: There is a consistent problem in many relationship movies today. Often, filmmakers want to make a movie about an honest relationship, yet these films sometimes come out bland and predictable because they are about nothing more than the relationship. It has all been done before, thus there is nothing of interest to be found. The Duke of Burgundy, at its core, is trying to show an honest and loving relationship between two women. Strickland shows their fears of getting old, worries of affairs, and so on. Regular problems not out of place in a movie about a relationship. What makes the film so unique is how he sets it against this hermetic backdrop of fetish and nature. He’s made an “honest relationship” movie, but simultaneously told a story about desire and the lengths one will go for love. All of this is directed with wonderful stylistic flourish. Strickland films the forest so the reds and yellows of the autumn trees really stand out. During sex scenes, the characters are no longer characters, but amorphous shapes shifting in the silk expanse of the bed sheets. It all has a very Hitchcockian tension to it. Especially as the film progresses, it becomes more unclear what takes place in reality and what takes place in the farthest reaches of dark fantasy, making the story all the more interesting. This, along with the utmost commitment from the two leads, makes for a more than compelling film.
Overall: The Duke of Burgundy is a darkly beautiful erotic thriller that doubles as an oddly touching tale of true love between two women.