This is a review of The Duke of Burgundy, between Cara, LaDIY organiser, and Sarah from Edge Of The Universe Printing Press. Contains some spoilers!
SARAH: Having seen it last night, here are my full thoughts on The Duke of Burgundy. I feel like it’s one of those films that I’m enjoying far more in hindsight, when I’m able to pick it over properly, than I actually did at the time. Still, overall I am definitely in the ‘fan’ camp. I really, really, really loved the aesthetic obsessions of the film, to the extent that the goodwill born of that pretty much saw me through the rest of its duration. But that soundtrack! That title sequence! That colour scheme! So, so great. Just the sound design and the staging was brilliant, I thought. I have a real fondness for a bunch of the stuff this film was influenced by (hauntology; 70s Euro-horror / Euro-sleaze; the accompanying soundtracks to both those things), so I was pretty much pre-destined to like it. I also liked the completely deadpan, “yeah, so?” weirdness of it. So, Cynthia and Evelyn live in a world of coiffured, bicycling women obsessed with both insects and BDSM. What of it?
Around the hour mark it began to lose me a bit (/ a lot) – the repetitions of the action (‘You’re late. You can start in the study’ etc.) was obviously there to say something about the two leads’ relationship, but that didn’t make it any less patience-testing to actually have to sit and watch it. I also felt like a lot of the film only had a real impact if you “got” the joke – you had to be part of the in-the-know in-crowd to understand what Strickland was referencing and riffing on. So, I had an “aha!” moment when the film “breaks down” (during Cynthia’s increasingly delirious dream sequence, when she finds the skeleton in the coffin, and Evelyn’s wandering around outside, and the screen is filled with moths and moth’s wings), because I “got” that this was a very explicit reference to landmark experimental film ‘Mothlight’ by Stan Brakhage (with a dash of when the film “breaks” in Bergman’s ‘Persona’). This “I got the joke!” pleasure was instantly followed by annoyance, as I find the in-built alienation of these kind of clever-clever filmic references pretty off-putting.
Patient-testingly slow as it could be at time, I also really enjoyed watching the relationship develop between the two lead women. I thought it was really well played (I really liked that they treated the potential ridiculousness of some of the situations so seriously and tenderly), and found the way that their very different needs became slowly more apparent, even though they clearly did have real love for each other, fairly heart-breaking.
Have you had time to digest it now? Whaddya think?
CARA: HEY! Thanks so much for writing all of that, you should add it to the LaDIY post I put, or let us feature it as a review on the blog!!!
I really liked all the colours and aesthetics too! It reminded me of some films that I saw ages back at Bungalows that someone put a small series of, weird Czech surrealist/new wave stuff like Daisies (that’s the only title I can remember).
I enjoyed the dynamics of the relationship, really silly little things like clicking of fingers when snoring, doing things with each other for the other person even tho its not what you want to do all the time, little nuances that are so true in loving and yet tired relationships and often overlooked in lesbian/queer cinema, it was very untypical of that genre – It felt like a very real relationship, albeit an unusual one. I smirked at their world too, a lecture theatre full of women all beautifully polished – did you notice there were actually manequins in those audiences too, was there some meaning/link to those that I might have missed? I defintely didn’t get the injoke you did about Mothlight, I’ll mention it to Jo though and see if she caught on!!
As a fairly standard cinema viewer, I did feel a bit lost at times, I wasn’t sure what all of the repetition was meant to be alluding to. A lot of what you said makes real sense though
SARAH: Hey! Glad you enjoyed my rambling – I do have a tendency to get carried away with analysis when it’s a film that’s interesting…
Speaking of interesting, this article on the director’s influences is pretty good (with Strickland being as intimidating knowledgeable as you’d expect): http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/peter-strickland-six-films-fed-duke-burgundy
Oh, and of course if you’d like to you can feature my “review” (such as it is!) on the blog! Though I thought what you’re saying is really interesting too: I loved how minutely observed the dynamics of the main relationship was, but I hadn’t really thought about how little you see that kind of thing in queer cinema. You’re right! So often these films seem to be coming out narratives, or involve at least some kind of conflict directly born of characters’ sexualities; queer relationships are so rarely depicted as just normal, even mundane (and all the repetition of their BDSM set-pieces meant the couple in ‘Duke’s’ relationship did seem to be plodding a bit) that it made this film feel really refreshing.
So, I thought maybe if you want to put some ‘Duke’ thoughts on the blog, it could be as a kind of discussion between us, rather than just me pontificating?!
Anyway. Totally missed the mannequins sat in the audience at the butterfly lectures thing. I’ve recently decided on a new film watching tactic where I sit right in the front row of the cinema, which makes films so intense that I think I actually end up missing a lot of stuff…
Did you go see this film as well, let us know what you thought!