Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Erotic Scent of The Duke

Peter Strickland, the man behind BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, a film I liked somewhat, returns to the screen with THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY,  a softcore, semi-sleazy yarn set in a world of women. The masculine title, according to Strickland, is meant to be ironic.

The film's initial spurt of inspiration was Jess Franco's LORNA THE EXORCIST: Strickland contemplated remaking that film for a couple of weeks before losing interest and leaving well enough alone. He did, however, stay on-topic, and delivers here a lesbian love story within a half-assed S/M structure; I say half-assed because one of the pretty asses in this movie doesn't seem quite as keen on the game as her "partner". Still, plenty of carnal fireworks emerge from the pairing, and there's a reasonable amount of nudity, some sex acts including a nice cunnilingus sequence, and bouts of imprisonment and servitude.

BURGANDY's women-only world is an interesting one, and forges a tone not unlike the world of Lucile Hadzihalilovic's INNOCENCE, a film exclusively featuring young girls adrift in a type of purgatory on earth. The women in Strickland's film are middle- to upper-class and enjoy meeting in stately drawing rooms to discuss insects. Although none but the central duo have sex with each other, one assumes there's plenty of lesbian sex going on behind closed doors.

Jess Franco's obsessions do seem to color BURGANDY, even though, technically, the film is more rigid and even-tempered than anything Jess ever made. The featured ladies think about sex a lot, which is good for the audience, and nobody seems to do anything terribly productive to fund the lifestyle they're enjoying (like Jess's ladies). The setting is the European countryside, and the true location (Hungary) is never referenced; probably a wise choice because this uncertainty gives the film a more fantastique vibe.

Actress Chiara D'Anna, who was also in BERBERIAN, is exquisitely carnal and subtly threatening in her role as Evelyn, the deceptively submissive actor in this little game. Her lover, Cynthia, is played with impeccable restraint by Sidse Babett Knudsen, a busy actress who appeared previously in television's BORGEN and the Mads Mikkelsen feature AFTER THE WEDDING. Both women carry the movie on strong shoulders, and make us believe in what is essentially very rich, dark nonsense.

Special mention goes to the film's opening title sequence; it captures quite perfectly title sequences from British thrillers that used freeze frames and often suffered visually (becoming dark and grainy) when dissolves were employed. Here, the technical deficits of these films are used as stylistic devices, and the result is sumptuous and atmospheric. The band, Cat's Eyes, provide a stunning score (available on CD), although nothing is quite as stunning as "The Duke Of Burgundy" title song ("Black Madonna" perhaps?), produced to replicate the sound and sweet fever of an old Carpenters song with Karen's gorgeous voice. It's just magic.

I'm dead against revealing plots and detailing story points, so I simply urge you to seek out and lap up this rare cinematic treat that was produced by Andrew Starke (currently making the superbly titled THE GREASY STRANGLER) and Exec Produced by Ben Wheatley. There is also a connection here to Pete Tombs and the Mondo-Macbro video label (that label did release LORNA THE EXORCIST).

Jess Franco would have been partial to this fine film and its proud obsessions.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up. I was interested in your take on this as you have an obvious interest in BDSM imagery, and this film's representation of it is kind of "lite". I'd be interested to know if the hardcore S&M community at large (so visible here in sydney) would generally celebrate or scoff at this.

    Also happy to see Wheatley's name in the credits. The man has yet to disappoint in either his directing or producing projects. That GREASY STRANGLER poster really grabbed me, and Jim Hosking's segment in ABC's of Death 2 was one of the best.