The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy ★★★★

A seemingly strange daily ritual is performed by two women; one a wealthy, middle-aged and refined lady and the other a younger maid who obediently fulfils every household chore she is instructed to complete. Day in and day out they perform the same routine of mistress and slave, with every last detail perfected. At night they are in each other's arms, before rising and beginning again the next day.

Peter Strickland composes a surreal daydream harking back to retro European soft core films, without cheapening the depth of the relationship between the two women. The quick headline from the outside will talk about the lesbian S&M elements but this isn't a Fifty Shades-style second-rate sideshow. Like his previous effort, Strickland's attention to detail creates an intoxicating mood piece that perforates your skin.

Cast into a hazy fairytale those two women live in a world where there are no men and no other points of reference for their sexuality, so whether they are gay, bisexual or even straight never comes into the equation. Those wary of an intense attachment to the couple needn't worry as the bone dry humour picks at the tired, repetitive nature of their lives. S&M relationships are typically filmed as dark, mysterious adventures, some of which is weaved into this hypnotic concoction. Yet despite the daydream qualities, we watch the older of the two struggling to continue the daily routine, squeezing into her corset, reluctantly slip into her high heels and snore her way through the night. Sadomasochism may stretch the limits of your sexual boundaries but it don't half take a lot of effort.

It is almost note perfect in recreating the atmosphere of low budget Euro trash while still managing to drift into some sort of feverish nightmare. The soundtrack plays a big part in transforming many scenes with dark orchestra driven pieces reaching back to luminaries like John Barry, a heady blend of 60's easy listening/pop/psychedelia. The music perfectly fits the highly stylised study of the couples romance and echoes the sumptuous composition of the film as a whole.

This should mostly appeal to cineastes, given its homage to an almost forgotten era put together with sincere skill and affection by one of the most exciting directors around. Despite the slavish detail at times the influences never overawe the main story, meaning it remains fresh instead of just a flat b-movie reprisal. That said, you won't need a film degree to understand its intentions, just an open mind to enjoy the decadent beauty.

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