Imagine playing out your sexual fantasies repeatedly. Day by day, whatever your carnal desires were, you got. The idea is tantalizing of course. Now imagine your partner. How do they feel about your fantasies? Are they getting the same fulfillment as you? Peter Strickland's "The Duke of Burgundy" is a provoking portrait of pleasure that twists the perception of happiness within the confines of a romantic relationship.
Initially watching as the two women role play with each other is erotic. Their escapades are sophisticated, kinky, and sensual. Director Peter Strickland sets up a very provocative mood through the lover's fantasy however that atmosphere is flipped into intrigue as the fantasy clearly becomes more of a cycle. A shift that sees arousal turn into resentment. As the turn is unveiled, much like layers in an onion, The Duke of Burgundy shows it has far more to talk about than simple carnal pleasures.
The role playing cycle these two lovers are practicing is unhealthy and Strickland does an exceptional job exploring the unhealthy nature of their practices. How it hurts one while fueling the other. There's also a strong component peering into how one lover's desires just seem to never be fulfilled. She's constantly hungry for more, adding new pieces to the game they play. What makes the film more than just a erotic drama is how Strickland examines these practices and their effect on both people in the relationship.
Happiness. Keeping our partners happy takes work. Having been in a committed relationship for 18 years and married for 13 years, I've put in that work. We've both made numerous accommodations to ensure both of us are happy in our relationship. I appreciate that Strickland without having to turn on a neon 'Welcome' sign is able to explore the nature of how important it is to reflect on both sides to a relationship. We all need pleasure and The Duke of Burgundy reminds us we need to make sure our partner is also getting the same pleasure out of the roles we can take on in relationships.
The Duke of Burgundy is concentrated on the cycle. It feels extreme. The audience isn't allowed the privilege to see these two lovers outside of their role playing very often. It is easy to think this is all they do. Role play. Alluring at first, but eventually it becomes tedious. This is a strong statement being made throughout the feature. Role playing could be fun to spice things up every once in a while, but a routine schedule, it becomes a rut. This can be said for nearly anything, not just sex.
The music throughout The Duke of Burgundy is enchanting. The English-Canadian duo Cat's Eyes, who are mostly known for their alternative pop music, created a score that sweeps the audience into another world. Reminiscent of the "Main Title" in Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," Cat's Eyes have blended melody and fantasy perfectly to match the mood Strickland set in his stimulating drama. A score that will certainly receive plenty of playback in my media devices.
Part of the sophistication in The Duke of Burgundy is established through an appealing wardrobe. From lingerie to regular dress, Andrea Flesch did a flawless job dressing the cast. The lingerie itself is eye-catching. The kind of stuff women would picture themselves wearing and men would want their partners in. I'd call it lust with taste. Lingerie also plays a great deal in the fantasy of their role playing and it is fascinating to watch as the garb begins to change and how those changes reflect the patterns of the lover's game.
Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen are exceptional together as the lovers. The Duke of Burgundy would feel much different without the talents of these two actresses. Strickland's script doesn't allow for these leads to just bat their eyelids either, there's a range that is demanded of both and they each rise to the level of material.
The Duke of Burgundy is a conversation starter. It is drama that will stay with you. Something that will give you perspective while also tickling the senses. It is erotic and manipulative, but most of all it is consuming.
"The Duke of Burgundy" opens in Friday, January 23rd in New York at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre. The film is also available on Video On Demand (VOD) via your cable providers.