British filmmaker Peter Strickland follows his eerie Festival hit Berberian Sound Studio with this dark melodrama about an amateur butterfly expert whose wayward desires test her lover's tolerance.
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland is a master manipulator of mood. As Festival audiences who experienced his 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio can attest, the English writer-director and long-time experimental musician also has an exceptional knack for paying sly homage to traditionally lowbrow genres. Where Berberian Sound Studio was a tribute to giallo films in the guise of a discomfiting mind-bender, Strickland's latest reconfigures the vintage erotic melodrama into something altogether deeper and darker.
Taking its title from a rare species of butterfly, The Duke of Burgundy chronicles the increasingly intimate relationship between wealthy amateur lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, of acclaimed Danish television drama Borgen) and her newly hired housekeeper, Evelyn (Berberian Sound Studio's Chiara D'Anna). As Cynthia's demands begin to betray a sadomasochistic streak, Evelyn becomes less a domestic servant than an outright sex slave, submitting to her progressively extreme humiliations with a surprising relish.
In another director's hands, this material might easily have tipped into the schlocky or the severe. Strickland, however, once again demonstrates a marvellous gift for modulating tone, pitching the tenor of his film in a strange, beguiling register somewhere between Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour and Joseph Losey's The Servant. By turns kinky, dryly comic, and compellingly surreal, and boasting gorgeous, gothic cinematography and an enveloping score by orchestral pop duo Cat's Eyes, The Duke of Burgundy is — like Strickland's previous work — a richly immersive sensory experience.