Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Duke of Burgundy": rather like "Bugcrush" for lesbians

The Duke of Burgundy,” by Peter Strickland, sounds like a strange title for this gay horror film, which is conceptually similar to the class long short “Bugcrush” (2006, reviewed here Jan. 29, 2008) by Carter Smith (a much better film), this time done with women instead of men.  In fact, in 2006 there were suggestions that Smith should have made that film as a feature, but no one was sure how to follow-up on or explain the ambiguous (and maybe horrific) end.  Well, this film is not exactly a sequel.

As the film opens, Evelyn (Chiara Dana) reports for work at the forest estate of an aging lesbian Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Pretty soon, the abusive obedience routine is a smokescreen for sadomasochistic sex, including mouth-washing with soap and being kept in a coffin.  Cynthia is a university professor and entomologist, and is obsessed with bugs.  The film starts going through cycles of the same dialogue and experiences (“That’s not a problem … yes it is a problem…”), and gradually the bugs enter the picture. Occasionally, other people appear, in town or when Cynthia lectures her zoology class (yes, a biology teacher).  The music (no composer listed in imdb), sometimes chamber and sometimes with a chanting chorus, tends to hypnotize the moviegoer as the movie progresses, almost as if this were a session in Hemi-Sync at the Monroe Institute.  You start tripping out.  You see a skeleton in the coffin, and expect a catastrophe (like in “Bugcrush”, maybe).  But all that is clear is that Evelyn, through her submissiveness, is actually controlling the sex and the whole agenda.  Yes, the very end lends itself to more than one explanation.
The credits identify all the bugs in the film.  There is also a wonderful, sentient cat whom you want to lift out of the screen and take home. (The title of the film is the name of a particular butterfly whom Cynthia collects.)
The official site is here  (IFC films, Sundance Selects, and Film 4).  The film was shot in Hungary but produced by British companies.
In ninth grade, I wrote a draft of a play of the same title, and have lost it.  It was in two acts, and as best I recall it dealt with the capture of Joan of Arc.
I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC in late afternoon, before a fair audience.

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