The Duke of Burgundy (2014)


Directed and Written By: Peter Strickland

Cast:

Sidse Babett Knudsen – Cynthia

Chiara D’Anna – Evelyn

Monica Swinn – Lorna

Eugenia Caruso – Dr.Fraxini

Fatma Mohamed – The Carpenter

Kata Bartsch – Dr. Lurida

Eszter Tompa – Dr. Viridana

Zita Kraszko – Dr. Schuller

Language: English                                                       

Genre: Drama; Romance

The Duke of Burgundy is a 2014 British romance drama. Set in an idyllic location, it opens with a long peaceful sequence of the countryside and of Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) cycling past it leisurely. She stops by streams, observes everything around her and then makes her way to her place of work.

Evelyn works as a maid and apprentice at the house of a seemingly curt and imperious lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Their interactions are discomfiting because there seems to be a very obvious attempt on Cynthia’s part to denigrate Evelyn. But, before you can give into that assumption, there is a realisation that laced into their interplay is a ritual of passion.

In fact, when the day to day sequences seem to repeat with very little change, and that Evelyn seems to be consciously getting late for work, one begins to see more into their relationship. It is with that awareness that the power dynamic shifts.

Unchanging, could be the most important motif in the film because even the title sequence freeze into darkroom photographs. Throughout the film there are similar recurring still images, such as that of butterflies and moths mounted. They are lovingly maintained but lifeless. It is the ritual of studying the species out of its environment and when it’s dead. This metaphor runs into the viewer’s understanding of Evelyn and Cynthia’s relationship.

The film has an all female cast including in the lecture segments. Strangely enough, there are female mannequins placed into that all female audience. Since it is a female only world, many beliefs about sexuality and gender are voided.

By stripping it of such assumptions, it explores the dynamics of a romantic relationship. Is control and power in the relationship easily apparent, even if plays out as dominant-submissive? What about the insecurities that seep into such an intimate spaces especially when there both different expectations as well as limitations? And, how far do you compromise to keep a connection?  

The Duke of Burgundy is a richly textured film be it sound (the haunting OST by Cat’s Eyes), or image. As a film that looks more at the emotional toll that’s probably inevitable in a non-platonic bond, it may not be the average titillating erotica some might expect.

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