THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (Peter Strickland) Rating: NNN
I’m always leery every time a guy cooks up a pic about lesbians with unusual sex practices. But five minutes into The Duke Of Burgundy, it’s obvious that director Peter Strickland (Barberian Sound Studio) isn’t exploiting his story for his own sexual benefit – the pic is about as erotic as fly-fishing. Strickland’s much more interested in sexual politics than actual heat.
Somewhere in Europe, maybe in the 70s, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna, innocent yet feral) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, wonderfully needy) have an elaborate sado-masochistic arrangement, with Cynthia as top, Evelyn bottom. Soon it becomes obvious that it’s Evelyn who’s in total control.
Strickland creates a hermetically sealed environment in a mammoth villa that the couple leave only to attend lectures about insects in what appears to be an all-female universe. Cynthia is a lepidopterist, a metaphor for I don’t know what (the duke of burgundy is the name of a butterfly), and she has an unslakable thirst, literally, for equally mysterious reasons.
But Strickland shows off a ton of style in extended footage of insect wings flapping and unsettling dream sequences, all set to Cat’s Eyes’ eerie music.
When a carpenter (Fatma Mohamed) discusses home decor that might be of interest to the couple, including a human toilet, Cynthia swoons with anticipation. It could have been a ludicrous moment, but it actually works within the careful artifice of Strickland’s world.
Just don’t look for any revealing backstories or a turn-on, regardless of your sexual tastes.
Opens Friday (February 27) at the Royal.