The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy ★★★★★

Love exists in a rigorously controlled environment in Peter Strickland’s sublime masterwork, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY. It is in this artificial construct where partners Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) reside. As in all endeavors where human emotion plays a part, cracks are bound to make themselves known. The various butterflies and moths that Cynthia studies and collects carry a specific meaning when applied to this central relationship. Strickland is the scientist who puts them under the microscope, cataloging their developmental cycle, exposing the nature of their companionship. The difference is that there is no clinical distance between the audience and what transpires on the screen. The formal mastery on display showcases a tenderness and intuitive understanding of the lengths people are willing to go to satisfy their needs and the needs of others. The fact that BDSM is the name of the game is beside the point. There is a universal resonance here that anyone can relate to. It elevates what could be seen as an empty ode to classic erotic cinema into something special and everlasting. Nic Knowland’s sensual cinematography, as well as the seamless editing by Mátyás Fekete are just two of the many crucial elements that add to the film’s considerable effectiveness. They both cleverly intensify the mundane and reconfigure it into a surreal, effervescent poetry. The same goes for the intricately conceived, all-encompassing sound design and the infectious, dreamlike pop music of Cat’s Eye. But we all know the peerless technical craft here wouldn’t mean a thing without the subtle, engrossing performances by Knudsen and D’Anna. As the roles of the dominant and the submissive slowly unravel due to the overabundance of passion that is waiting to burst out, it becomes clear that desire is not to be put into a box left to suffocate. It requires patience and a nurturing hand to make it work. The individual is simply too complex to be labeled. At the end of the day, the repetitive role playing Cynthia and Evelyn indulge in gives way to a renewed appreciation of what they have. And with that, a fresh, uncharted cycle is born. Whether it stays that way remains to be seen, but love is not easy now, is it?

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