The Duke of Burgundy

 

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Peter Strickland’s third feature is another example of self-indulgent art house cinema designed to test the viewer’s patience.

 

The Duke of Burgundy

Below the belt: Chiara D'Anna

 

Peter Strickland occupies a very narrow niche in British art house cinema not seen since, perhaps, Ken Russell and the heyday of Peter Greenaway. Consequently, his films are very much a required taste, his subterranean black humour at odds with the luscious imagery that his cameraman Nic Knowland conjures up.

 

While the title suggests a male nobleman, it is, in fact, the name of a butterfly (Hamearis lucina) and there’s not a single male performer (or even extra) in sight. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a middle-aged lepidopterist, who occasionally is seen giving lectures on moths and butterflies to an all-female audience (and a single female mannequin – don’t ask). She resides in a sumptuous mansion in the countryside where she is visited by the lowly Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), who scrubs her floors, tends to her laundry and services her with more personal ministrations.

 

The relationship between the two women is slowly unveiled to reveal a more complex dynamic, as scenes are repeated and clues picked up as the film progresses. There are also dream sequences and fantasy interludes which, frankly, leaves the viewer no more enlightened. As Evelyn, Chiara D'Anna (who appeared in the director’s Berberian Sound Studio) could not be more stilted or less convincing and one cannot but wonder if the joke is on us. The close-ups of insect life remind us more of the work of Greenaway but appear to add little to the narrative, other than to validate the film’s misleading title. Even so, The Duke of Burgundy garnered ecstatic reviews, but to this critic seemed a self-indulgent exercise bulked up from a very flimsy conceit.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna, Fatma Mohamed, Monica Swinn.

 

Dir Peter Strickland, Pro Andy Starke, Screenplay Peter Strickland, Ph Nic Knowland, Pro Des Pater Sparrow, Ed Mátyás Fekete, Music Cat's Eyes, Costumes Andrea Flesch.

 

Film4 Productions/Ripken Productions/Rook Films-Artificial Eye.

104 mins. UK/Hungary. 2014. Rel: 20 February 2015. Cert. 18.