“Duke” a trippy, kinky romance
What ultimately works in the strange, somewhat slow lesbian drama, “The Duke of Burgundy” is the chemistry between its two female leads. It is kind of fascinating how the focus of the film is not on lesbianism or S&M, but the pure heat and sexual attraction between the two women, Cynthia and Evelyn, played yet underplayed with breathy eroticism, respectively, by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiarra D’Anna.
Cynthia is a professor of butterflies at what seems to be an entomology school in the woods. Evelyn is one of her many female students; she is also her maid and her submissive. The only real characters in the movie are Cynthia and Evelyn, yet the cast is all female.
It is striking how the film is directed by male director Peter Strickland, yet in less sensitive directing hands, male or female, the film would have become an utterly silly lesbian fantasy. Sidse Knudsen, who I have never seen in a film before, is amazing as a sexy Mrs. Robinson type, who is a truly tragic mess beneath her cold and playful exterior.
By the clothing and hair styles of the women, I would guess the film is set in the mid ’60’s. The whole film is stylized to an extreme degree. There is no mention of the time period, yet the filming style, the soundtrack, and the opening credits are all perfectly retro.
The more I think about it, the more I admire the craft, imagination, and ambition that has been put into the film. I will admit, though, that sometimes the film’s reach exceeds its grasp. A fantasy that Cynthia has toward the end is a little too trippy, and the butterfly metaphor wears a little thin after a while. I probably do not have the whole film figured out yet, but it is to be sure the kind of movie I would want to go back to multiple times to dissect its meaning.