Mainstream websites such as philly.com, the online division of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” describes The Duke of Burgundy as “a straight-faced homage to 1970s European erotica, full of soft-focus nudity and soft-core kink.” Stephen Rea, in his review of UK auteur Peter Strickland’s film goes on to mention Italian soft-core king Jesus Franco and America’s Radley Metzger as influences on Strickland’s art and calls Duke a throwback to “more innocent times, when actresses with exotic names would strip off their costumes while embracing far-fetched scenarios – and one another.”
Since I nurse tender feelings towards French film-maker Just Jaeckin’s original 1974 Emmanuelle and its leading lady, Sylvia Kristel, I decided to add it to my Netflix list.
Go deeper – to hard-core cinephile sites like cinema-scope.com – and the dedicated viewer will unearth more complex (conservative viewers may call depraved) meanings. Control is a dominant theme – as in Sun Choke – but expressed in a much more subtle manner. The narrative revolves around a May- September lesbian couple (Sidse Babbet Knudsen, Chiara d’Anna), their S & M roleplay and lepidoptery. (The film’s title refers to a type of butterfly.) There are film references and metaphors galore oozing just under the surface But what a lush and sensual surface it is (cinematography by Nic Knowland).
Since I have not engaged in S & M roleplay personally, some of the references flew by me on the first viewing. (So that’s why the character portrayed by Ms. Knudsen drinks so much water.) Ms. Knudsen’s CV, incidentally, includes TV’s Westworld, Borgen (a Danish political drama in which she plays Denmark’s Prime Minister!) and a small role (opposite Tom Hanks) in the film A Hologram for the King. Ms. d’Anna (a former geologist, according to “Rolling Stone”, who called the film “the kinkiest arthouse film of the year“) is the younger half of the duo. Both actresses play their roles in refreshingly natural fashion , as writer/director Strickland intended.
In the interview with cinema-scope. com’s Jose Teodoro, Mr. Strickland makes the remark ” …. I’m trying to embrace that disreputable or sleazy impulse, as the film we made clearly started as a Jess Franco tribute, though it ended up as something very different … ” You’ve been warned (or intrigued).