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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Duke of Burgundy

It might be helpful to know that the Duke of Burgundy is a type of butterfly. I was wondering that through the whole movie. Here's a rule--if the audience can't figure out why a movie is called what it is, they will spend the whole movie trying to figure it out, and not focusing on the movie itself.

Written and directed by Peter Strickland, The Duke of Burgundy is a two-character psychological drama about submission and dominance. A woman (Chiara D'Anna) is seen arriving at the stately home of a lepidopterist (Sidse Babett Knudsen). She is the maid, and Knudsen is stern and cold with her. We start to feel uneasy, as no one should boss around somebody like that. Finally, when Knudsen has her rub her feet, we get the idea. This is role-playing. They are in a romantic relationship, and D'Anna gets off on being bossed around.

When I worked at Penthouse one of the things I learned is that in S&M relationships, it is often the submissive who is really in charge--it's called topping from below. We learn that is the case here, as D'Anna writes out the scripts for Knudsen to follow and even gets testy with her when she doesn't do it right. Knudsen's heart just isn't into it--she prefers pajamas to corsets, and would rather sleep with D'Anna then lock her in a trunk.

Strickland, in the supplemental material, says that this film is an homage to Jess Franco, who made a ton of soft-core movies back in the day. And The Duke of Burgundy is a sort of Cinemax film with puffed up pretensions. But there is no nudity (although there are some kinky allusions--the words "human toilet" are mentioned) and the message, about the nature of submissives, is trite.

But I did admire the world Strickland creates. I'm not sure when it was supposed to take place--the women ride bicycles, use typewriters, and there's not a phone or car in sight. Also, it appears the S&M is perfectly acceptable in this world. What I don't know is the connection between the world of moths and butterflies and the world of the women. Strickland seems to be saying there is, but it eluded me. There are many shots of insects, but nothing suggesting they role play as master and servant. In films like Angels & Insects this was much better done. Maybe Strickland just likes collecting butterflies.

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