[THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY screens Thursday May 7th at 6:45 pm and Friday May 8th at 9:35 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
Forget about Mr. Grey; the Duke will see you now. Those disappointed by the watered down and wrongheaded “mommy porn” of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY will find their taste for kinky erotica far better served by THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, the latest neo-retro delight from BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO writer/director Peter Strickland.
The plot of the film concerns a pair of lesbian entomologists living in bourgeois comfort at an indeterminate time in the past (my guess is the early 20th century). Unlike FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY thoroughly understands that it is the submissive partner in a BDSM relationship, in this case Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who is really in control. In fact, Evelyn is so controlling that she's in danger of wearing out her ostensibly dominant partner Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). In the kinkster's dictionary next to “topping from the bottom”, you'd find a picture of this couple.
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is unapologetically a sex film that never treats its subject's proclivities as unhealthy or something that needs to be changed. Cynthia and Evelyn love each other, but that doesn't change what gets them off. That said, it also understands that there is more to a relationship than just sex, and that however much two people may love each other, over time sexual tastes and appetites may drift apart. Somehow a balance has to be found in which both women can continue to get what they each need from their relationship. It's a far more realistic and mature look at love than one generally sees on film.
There is some sex and nudity in DUKE, and some light BDSM stuff. Rather than the whole whips and chains routine that most people think of in this context, though, the couple here is more into role playing. Cynthia (mis)treats Evelyn as a maid, uses her as a chair, and so on. Even if this kind of thing isn't your cup of kinky tea, cinematographer Nic Knowland shoots it all in such a rich, sensual manner that the entire film is infused with a warm erotic glow that makes even forced laundry duty look sexy.
Stickland conceived his film as an homage to prolific filmmaker Jesus “Jess” Franco, in particular Franco's more polished films of the late sixties/early seventies, many of which were based on or inspired by the works of the Marquis de Sade. He captures the spirit of Franco's films perfectly, but doesn't stop there. Instead he brings it forward into the present to be molded and transformed into something fresh and personal. There are stylistic and thematic similarities to the softcore Eurotica classics of yore, but this is no mere pastiche. Those looking for a campy nostalgia trip won't find it here. Instead, what they will find is a genuinely erotic and surprisingly deep and human love story told with skill and style. 4 out of 4 stars.