Time: 104 Minutes
Age Rating: Sex scenes
Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia
Chiara D’Anna as Evelyn
Director: Peter Strickland
A drama about the relationship between a pair of female lovers (Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna) who play games of dominance and subservience.
I heard some people mentioning The Duke of Burgundy as an unusual, artsy yet really good indie film. I decided to check it out based on how well it was received and I’m glad I did, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
To get the obvious out of the way, The Duke of Burgundy has S&M and BDSM as prominent parts of the movie, given that it’s a key part in the main relationship. This aspect could’ve just easily been mishandled, but for all the role playing and behaviours that sees the two lead characters playing out their fantasies, it never came across as exploitative. In fact, the movie uses this as a study on power dynamics and more, even the way that this aspect plays out is unexpected at points. However, essentially the movie is about relationships, wants and desires. The plot itself is quite simple, The Duke of Burgundy is a love story, and all the focus really is on the characters and their relationship. We are given an insight into their lives, their relationship is explored in a very tasteful way, and their dynamic is more complicated than it initially seems. There are even moments of surprising comedy, which make makes the movie more entertaining than expected. Despite its simplicity, it is quite clever and well written, and despite the subject matter and some of the moments of the film, it’s a very tender movie. It is steadily paced across its 104-minute runtime. If you aren’t into the story and characters by the first third of the movie, you might find this a tough film to watch because it really takes its time with everything. However as someone who was invested in what was happening, I liked it, and appreciated it for doing that.
The cast are quite limited, much of the movie is just the lead actors in Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen, and both of them are incredible in their respective parts. The relationship between these two characters is the most important part of the movie, and the development of this relationship is so subtle that it really asks a lot of the actors to convey these changes and emotions in a way that seems natural, and they really did that. Knudsen is particularly fantastic, especially with the way things between her and D’Anna progress and change over the course of the movie.
This is the first movie I saw from Peter Strickland, and he’s certainly shown himself to be a great director from this one movie. Despite the simplicity of the plot, The Duke of Burgundy really is fantastic on a technical level and further elevates the movie. The cinematography is stunning with some memorable imagery (especially with nature), and it really compliments the rest of the movie. The editing is solid too, as well as important. As the movie progresses, it gets increasingly more surreal on a visual level. The sound design is superb, and so is the score from Cat’s Eye. With all of these elements combined, it makes the movie have this dreamlike feeling throughout. It really is one of the strongest examples of a movie where all the technical elements are working perfectly together in sync.
The Duke of Burgundy is not for everyone, but I thought it was great. I was invested with what was happening with the story and characters, it was excellent on a technical level, and the performances from Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen were fantastic.