The Duke of Burgundy
In Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland made a delirious love letter to giallo horror, framed in the clever concept of an unassuming foley artist in a strange pocket of filmmaking before melting his work into a fever dream. In The Duke of Burgundy, Strickland revisits genres he had to hide under the mattress as a child, this time with a heavy riff on the genteel, vintage softcore smut like Emmanuelle. But because it was never meant to be ‘just that,’ Burgundy also goes the way of weirding it up, not by framing it in a spin, but by going full on farce with it.
We open on Evelyn (returning Chiara D’Anna) standing by the riverbed of a soft forest, before biking toward an aged, isolated manor, where her new employer, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), awaits to send her through rigorous housecleaning routines. Within moments of their engagement, it becomes clear that Cynthia is a harsh mistress, punishing any tardiness from Evelyn in erotic and dominating ways. But the relationship between the two is not that simple, or even that menacing, as Burgundy begins to unravel a strange world, one that tries to make weird sense out of the oft unquestioned universes of vintage erotica. Everlyn and Cynthia’s romance’s biggest problems are the familiar and mundane, framed in the overdrive of retro mystique.
Burgundy is a lavish film, the opening credits are so loving that they cite what fragrance is being used. But it’s still a little more critical of what it’s an homage to than Berberian was, making absurd loops to justify where it comes from. It is a world with no men, where butterfly displays are a form of currency, and where kink is the norm. It is a boiling parody, one suffering from some similar problems as Berberian’s meltdowns, but ultimately feeling like a great satire when the concept overflows. (Zack Kotzer)