Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Duke of Burgundy.

Peter Strickland at EIFF 2012
Described as a maverick of modern British cinema Reading born Peter Strickland made his debut feature film in 2006. This low budget rural revenge drama Katalin Varga was filmed over a 17-day period in the Hungarian speaking part of the Romanian region of Transylvania; the project was completed for £28000. His next film had its World Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2012. Berberian Sound Studio is a very nostalgic look at a world before digital recording devices and striped bare the mechanics of the old horror analogue film studios that would commandeer all sorts of every day items to make some very gruesome noises, including an array of garden produce like melons, cabbages and radishes! A film to be honest I had to see twice to appreciate! He followed this with a concert film that he co- directed and edited, Bjork: Biophila Live was filmed at the Alexandra Palace in Wood Green London in September 2013 and featured the Icelandic singer/songwriter[1] performing tracks from her recent tour.  Which brings us to Mr Strickland’s latest work and this weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening The Duke of Burgundy[2] (2014).

Shot in Hungary, Strickland’s latest movie is set in an enchanting pastoral world of butterflies and country houses, populated by women. (No men are to be seen anywhere in this movie). It is without doubt a relationship drama, albeit a sadomasochistic one and focuses on a submissive simmering love affair between Cynthia, a beautiful sophisticated woman and Evelyn, the younger of the two who acts as Cynthia’s maid carrying out tasks and being punished when she regularly does not complete them to her mistresses high standards. These punishments include being used as a human toilet.  Into this atmospheric situation comes the carpenter played by Fatma Mohamed[3] who specialises in made to measure items to intensify transgressive sexual pleasure and measures Evelyn for a bed box, a special gift from Cynthia for the younger woman’s birthday.
Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia. 

The question quickly arises, who is actually getting pleasure in this relationship? At times I think your find it difficult to tell. I would agree with the Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw when he opines that The Duke of Burgundy proves that erotic cinema can have genuine substance. Although the narrative is pretty static it’s the ‘simmering undercurrents that are so curiously affecting’[4]. 
Chiara D'Anna as Evelyn.

Farma Mohamed as The Carpenter.

Similar in cinematic style to Berberian Sound Studio, which is not surprising as Strickland uses the same cinematographer Nicholas Knowland. It’s a very good movie to look at, beautifully photographed putting you in mind of Euro porn movie’s of the seventies with its soft focus and bizarre imaginary, and has an intriguing story line which you will either love or hate, but it is important that you view this drama with a completely open mind and bring to it no preconceived prejudices.
Just one of the beautiful settings that Nicholas Knowland captures with his camera. 

The star of this film is Sidse Babett Knudsen, who you will recognise as the Scottish First Ministers favourite TV female politician Birgitte Nyborg the Prime Minister of Denmark in the award winning series Borgen. She plays Cynthia, rarely off the screen and holding your attention at all times, a really wonderful sensual actress who portrayal is one of the main reasons for making sure you see this movie. The Italian actress Chiara D’Anna who Strickland used previously in Berberian Sound Studio plays Evelyn. This is by far the best of Strickland’s feature films to date and certainly one of the most interesting and captivating films I’ve seen this year: don’t miss a chance to see this wonderfully sexual and erotically charged movie.  

[1] Starred in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark in 2000, opposite Catherine Deneuve
[2] A European butterfly.
[3] Appeared in both of Strickland previous two feature films.
[4] Mark Reynolds Movie mail.

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