FILM REVIEW: The Duke of Burgundy, Pioneer (2014)

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By Sophie Hogan, Contributor.

Set in an unidentified European state, The Duke Of Burgundy is a racy and erotic picture that puts a twist on love and portrays a rather extreme test of a relationship between two lovers with some rather singular tastes. As Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) begins to want more from her relationship with Cynthia, played by the infallible Sidse Babett Knudsen, she immerses herself in the creation of fictional sexual scenarios involving a dominant and submissive partner. Together, Evelyn and Cynthia act out the range of scenes, which become more extreme as the film progresses, resulting in raunchy bondage. Yet the relationship between the two is subsequently tested; despite Evelyn’s enthusiasm towards their relationship, Cynthia begins to doubt herself leading to uncertainty as to whether their relationship can survive.

The entire film is what one would describe as a unique revelation. The quick transition between sadomasochistic scenarios and butterfly research lectures was not something to be expected. Nevertheless, the film is a jewel of cinematography on a less than adequate budget; Peter Strickland still succeeds in creating a picturesque environment around the mysterious house where the couple resides. A definitive location for the film is not revealed, but there is not really much need for it to be. The small cobbled streets of the unnamed town are more than adequate in creating an environment for the viewer. As for the house, its large garden and the countless majestic rooms set the perfect scene for a racy, erotic film while the inclusion of a dark, cold basement remains somewhat reminiscent of Strickland’s earlier horror work, Beberian Sound Studio (2012).

The acting is nothing short of superb. At first glance some may see up and coming Italian actress Chiara D’Anna as slightly timid and hesitant. However, she successfully develops the character’s somewhat mentally unhinged demeanor; desperate for love and an extremely unique kind of attention. However the shining light of the picture is Sidse Babett Knudsen, whose show of insecurity masked by an appearance of dominance and superiority is not easily seen until some way through the film. Her return to the screen is welcomed furiously by critics after her starring role in Danish political drama Borgen (2010), which was popular among audiences internationally.

Erotica in films have been a sensitive subject for many in years past. However this year alone, films such as The Duke of Burgundy and Fifty Shades of Grey are initiating discussions and a resurgence of the genre. Although less of a mainstream film than Fifty Shades of Grey, The Duke of Burgundy is, in the opinion of some a much more accurate showcase of erotica in the media. The emotions of the characters are taken into consideration much more deeply, showing the vulnerability and insecurity that may come with a dominant/submissive relationship. The Duke of Burgundy is an intriguing and finely crafted piece of cinema, boasting brilliant acting and a well written script.

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