Two women who inspect butterflies for a living test the limits of their relationship, exploring the realms of the submissive and dominant. It soon becomes clear that the couple are not what they seem to be upon first glance.
I just found out, this film is incredibly difficult to tie down to a synopsis that fits the kind of standard Hollywood mould for film synopses. In that it doesn’t really cohere to the normal narrative structure of that kind of film. It doesn’t have a plot so to speak, we just spend some time with the two main characters and watch their relationship develop.
Peter Strickland who also directed the masterpiece that was Berberian Sound Studio has an incredible way of controlling the look of his movies and they are always just so gorgeous to look at. Everything about his films is impressive and wondrous on an aesthetic level, every shot is a painting and a beautiful one at that. I also like the way in which Strickland makes no noticeable concessions to the mainstream. This is a film which takes liberties with pacing and substitutes ‘events’ for slight changes in dynamic. There are long periods in which nothing is noticeably added to the story, for instance there are a few scenes in which we essentially sit through 5/6 minutes of a lecture on a particular type of insect. And the film is such a work of art and brilliance that you don’t for one second think that you are actually sat there watching a film. It’s a mix between feeling like you are genuinely in the company of these characters and just experiencing a piece of art. It’s the kind of film that (are you ready) you can feel and almost smell rather than just see and hear, I think it submerses you so completely all of your senses are triggered whilst watching. This is something not many films I know of have been able to achieve.
The performances of the leading two women (Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen) are impeccable. Playing a couple struggling with the roles they play and sexually experimenting with said roles, in a really down to earth and often very humorous way. It could be possible in this kind of situation to alienate an audience by including this kind of relationship, but it is dealt with so deftly and with so little judgement I think there is something in Duke of Burgundy that everyone will be able to relate to. I’d also like to point out that this is possibly the only film I have seen this year that portrayed a lesbian relationship as the norm. And for that reason, Duke of Burgundy is not only a terrific film but an important one.
Overall, this is one of the best films to have come out this year. It’s a beautifully constructed and acted piece of work that stretches beyond just being a piece of art and is actually also an important step forward for the film industry as a whole.