I am naming Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy my “WTF?” film for 2015. It is not because of a lack of qualities, but it is so bizarre that it is hard to define and hard to figure out if The Duke of Burgundy will find an audience. But I’ve seen worst. It begins with Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) going to work for Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) as a maid/cleaning lady. Judging by what the women are wearing, along with the usual accessories, including corsets, girdles, nylon stockings and garter belts, we are obviously in the 60s. First Evelyn is asked to clean Cynthia’s butterfly collection, and then to wash Cynthia’s underwear. But Evelyn forgets to wash an item, and Cynthia punishes her by urinating on her (unseen). It’s then that you find out that the two women are lesbian lovers playing S&M and bondage games. They live and work together as lepidopterists (The study of moths and butterflies). When Evelyn is not playing the maid, the couple spend their evening with Cynthia sitting on Evelyn’s face. And instead of sleeping in their bed with Cynthia, Evelyn prefers to sleep in a wooden chest in their room. Locked inside! Evelyn seems to love those games, to be enthralled by them. But Cynthia is bored and annoyed and only plays along to please her lover. If some of you are thinking “Ooo, kink!”, think again. It’s too minimalist, too artsy to be that kind of kinky. If you want to be titillated, go see something else. There is no nudity, no spanking or whipping scenes, nothing shocking happening on-screen. The Duke of Burgundy is mainly an “exercise de style”. The two women speak softly, almost whispering, everything is unemotional. That is in turn reflected in the color palette used by director Peter Strickland. It’s all earth tones like browns and grays. And Strickland has created an unusual world populated only by women, all dressed in the same style, with only one interest: moths and butterflies. WTF, indeed.
The Duke of Burgundy