Take a Drink: every time Cynthia demeans Evelyn
Take a Drink: for every sex scene
Take a Drink: for imagery of Moths and Butterflies, then shoot me an email and explain how deeply meaningful this is.
Take a Drink: whenever the safe word “Pinastri” is spoken
Drink a Shot: for physical punishment
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
Cynthia and Evelyn are two women engaged in a sadomasochistic relationship with each other. Cynthia is ostensibly the dominant one, as she regularly demeans and punishes Evelyn for transgressions. Things are not as they seem, however, as it is soon revealed that Evelyn is guiding Cynthia’s torments, with the older Cynthia actually taking Evelyn’s orders every morning as to how and what she wants done and said to her. The relationship is strained as Evelyn’s demands for punishment from Cynthia put higher demands on her than she feels she can continue with.
Director/Writer Peter Strickland has a keen eye for visuals, setting the film in a strange world where women are the only humans seen, and technology hasn’t strayed too far from the Victorian Era. This and the palatial surroundings of Cynthia’s country home create an otherworldly feel that is certainly interesting…
… And would be far more moving if there was anything of a story to back it up. Even the abysmal 50 Shades of Grey managed to present its audience with a strong character conflict to sink its teeth into. The conflict here is underplayed to such an extent that it really ends up feeling meaningless. The Director chose to pace the film with a deliberately slow measure, perhaps as a nod to 1970s art cinema. This slow pace is never earned, though, as there is never any reason to care about the difficulties being faced in the relationship with Cynthia and Evelyn.
Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’anna) never display much chemistry with each other. Most of the dialogue spoken is done so with a kind of monotone that makes emotion difficult to convey, no doubt a directoral choice, but one that seems to lack purpose. The way they interact with each other is more zombie-like than the hypnotized villages in Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass, but at least in that film, the unsettling nature of seeing an entire village of people without emotion felt palpably creepy. But Duke has no feeling, no pleasure, no pain, not even “mild interest”. It is maddening…
For a film about a relationship involving the sexualization of mental and physical torment, this film is incredibly uninvolved. There isn’t any hint of satisfaction in the eyes of either characters during their ritual abuse of each other. The rote nature by which it is carried out is as unexciting as it is unengaging. Certainly one could try to glean some kind of meaning from this, if the film gave me anything of substance to grab a hold of, perhaps I’d care to.
The symbolism regarding Butterflies/Moths is impenetrable. And the climax to the film features an extended psychotropic sequence involving a nearly black image, repetition of the safe word, and butterflies/moths flying everywhere. I have never seen a more ridiculous attempt to put something artsy for “Art’s sake” into a film. Some reviews speculate that the filmmaker was making a point that relationships develop like butterflies, in stages. If this is the point he was trying to make, then why does the relationship keep going? Shouldn’t it wither and die, with new love being born from another host? All of this seems wrong-headed.
Unengaging at its best, and pretentious at its worst, The Duke of Burgundy backs up some unique visuals with absolutely nothing worth noting.