The Duke of Burgundy (NR)

Drama 105 min. January 23, 2015
By Stephanie Zacharek
Peter Strickland has made his wondrous erotic study The Duke of Burgundy into a love letter to the supersoftcore Seventies fever dreams of European directors like Jess Franco and Tinto Brass, with a splash or two of Buñuel daubed behind the ears. It's a film of ecstasies, all taking place on the grounds of a cozy-luxe estate that the movie's press notes situate "somewhere, sometime in Europe." It is there we meet the cruel orthopterist Cynthia (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen), a fiftyish temptress with a penchant for polished reptile stilettos and pencil skirts that turn her derriere into an approximation of a Grecian urn. Cynthia tyrannizes her meek maidservant Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), a junior lepidopterist with full, quivering lips whose own predilection involves nanny capes and schoolgirl blouses.

Nothing, of course, is as it seems -- because what ever is? Cynthia and Evelyn are engaged in a sultry game of cat-and-mouse, though it gradually becomes clear who has the stronger jaws. The Duke of Burgundy might have stopped at being a lush work of parody, and a pleasingly effective one at that -- Strickland and cinematographer Nicholas D. Knowland dip freely into a big bag of visual tricks, coming up with an assortment of daydreamy soft-focus effects and gently disorienting double-vision images. But Strickland builds the film, artfully, into a complex and ultimately moving essay on the privileges of victimhood and the nuances of what it means to suffer for love.
Peter Strickland Sidse Babett Knudsen, Monica Swinn, Chiara D'Anna, Eugenia Caruso, Fatma Mohamed IFC Films

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