The Duke Of Burgundy

Art & Culture

I wish I could tell you how much you really don't want to see this film. You may be seduced a) by the apparent subject matter or b) by the enthusiasm of film critics who should know better, but please trust me on this one. Unless you are very keen on pretentious films loosely based on 70s Italian erotica, but which are not erotic, you want to give this a miss.

Peter Strickland is an unusual British film director whose two films before this Katalin Varga and Berberian Sound Studio, have been interesting, and highly praised. I was less excited by BSS than others, but I could see traces of talent,despite the incoherent ending. The Duke of Burgundy is a whole other kettle of bollocks.

It starts with a woman arriving at the door of a house. She rings the bell, and is let in. We gather that she is starting a new job as a servant, though her new mistress is more like a dominatrix than an employer. There are constant undertones of lesbianism (as well as a sadomasochism), but this is the lesbianism of European cinema 40 years ago, suggestive, inauthentic and deadly dull. At some point in the film (by which time I'd lost interest), it turns out that things are not as they seem (who would have guessed/cared?), but the film never loses its unswerving commitment to pretentious meaninglessness.

Unfairly (I know), let me compare and contrast the film to another movie with which it shares apparent similarities.  Mulholland Drive concerns the relationship between two women, has an erotic subtext, is often incomprehensible and has a narrative detour. There the similarity ends. MD is consistently original, subversive, engaging, unexpected and downright weird. None of those adjectives can be applied to DOB. we don't understand the two women, their relationship with each other, or why we are watching a film about them. Part of this is to do with the heavyhanded pastiche of European 70s cinema. If Berberian Sound Studio was a hommage to giallo cinema, then Strickland's new film is in thrall to a certain kind of pseudo-porn that used to be seen on late night television for people who needed to get a life. The original films were crap, but they were of their time. What's the excuse for this?

To be fair, here are a sample of reviews who don't share my dislike of the film.


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