Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Butterflies, S&M sex games, an all-female society and Borgen's Sidse Babett Knudsen highlight Peter Strickland's THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY

Not having been blown away (I was mildly impressed) with Peter Strickland's last film, Berberian Sound Studio, TrustMovies was at least more prepared for this auteur's newest ramble into the kind of bizarre visual world that can only be accessed via film. In its opening moments, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (the title refers to Hamearis lucina, a butterfly also known by this titular name) initially seems like a typically lovely European film: gorge-ous photography of a small country village, with babbling stream, plentiful greenery and charming architecture.

Ah, but what mysteries reside in this bucolic landscape! For one thing, there ain't no men. That's right: We're in a world of only women, no matter where we turn or go or look or lay our head, at work or at play -- it's all gals, all the time. Interestingly, nothing is made of this fact. It simply exists as a given.

Are we in an alternate universe in which men don't exist? Or this this some strange, fantasy dream? (The movie does indeed seem like a dream -- if not an outright nightmare -- from time to time.) Could this be meant as something psychological -- men's fears/fantasies of what women would get up to if given their rein/ reign? You'd have to ask these questions of writer/director Strick-land, pictured at right, and even then, the fellow might not be so forthcoming, for film-makers often prefer that you work a bit to ferret out meanings.

Meaning may not come so easily here, but I think you will have some fun and games just watching the goings-ons, which involve two attractive and sensual women, one of whom -- Sidse Babett Knudsen, at left, above, who played the lead in one of  the best television series ever made (Borgen, from Denmark) -- is worth seeing here in quite a different role.

The other woman, Chiara D'Anna, above, left, is younger, less tutored and more subservient. Or so it would seem. The Duke of Burgundy is also about role playing and shifting identities. Like a dream, the movie floats along, refusing to be pinned down. It is also, like a dream, quite repetitive, except that dreams, or so they tell us, take place very quickly. This one goes on for 104 minutes, which is good deal longer than its content -- however bizarre, sensual and transgressive it initially seems -- can handle.

Still, amidst the re-occurring sexual games there are a few upticks along the way, the chief among these being the visit to our pair by a woman (Eugenia Caruso, above) who specializes in what appears to be the procuring of some very odd sexual equipment for the bathroom. Along the way, you'll take stock of this relationship and realize that it is probably quite difficult to keep an S&M bond fresh and fun when one partner has an urgent need for masochism while the other isn't truly a sadist.

You may also imagine that you've wandered into a movie made by Radley Metzger, now working in tandem with Peter Greenaway -- not a particularly happy blend. Someone has called this film a melodrama, but it is hardly that. Or at least not a good melodrama -- which needs pace and plot and a little fire. After an initial viewing, The Duke of Burgundy seems all naughty titillation trying to approach sophisticated decadence.

Fun for awhile and certainly sometimes a visual treat, the movie -- from Sundance Selects/IFC Films -- opens this Friday, January 23, in New York City (at the IFC Center) and Los Angeles (at Landmark's NuArt), and simultaneously on VOD in most major markets.

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