Peter Strickland's 2014 film The Duke of Burgundy is one of those films you gape in awe at wondering how someone was able to make something so beautiful for the amount of money that it cost to, say, animate one of Groot's elbows in an Avengers film. Duke supposedly cost one million dollars to make in total, and yet it's so visually dazzling with what it's got it should make most directors of most big blockbusters throw themselves off of bridges.
That screed aside it's kind of amazing Strickland managed to scrounge up a million dollars for such a blessed oddity -- a master-slave lesbian romance set in a man-less world of moth enthusiasts is probably the definition of niche. In fact it makes "niche" seem positively canyon-esque.
That Strickland populates his crowd scenes with randomly posed mannequins only adds to the eerie allure of this film's magnificence. (And PS Strickland's mannequin affection really hits its stride with his new film In Fabric, which I'll be reviewing soon for Tribeca, stay tuned.)
The overlapping and interweaving tensions of dominance between Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) that make the meat of Burgundy are usually looked at via their sexual kinks, but watching it again this week I found myself more focused on the feelings of intellectual inferiority that Cynthia, the dominant submissive, spends the movie grappling with.
The more mature Evelyn's firmer grasp on moth biology -- apparently the only subject of study in this world -- makes Cynthia feel lesser, and even as she traps the older woman in an endless cycle of fetishistic domineering Cynthia is scrambling to make herself something in the eyes of her lover.
It's no mistake she forces Evelyn to act out reading as part of their play. And in her spare time Cynthia is constantly at the library -- well alright in everybody's spare time everybody is at the library; that and sex seem to be the only past-times in this weird world of theirs. Weird perfect world, that is. What else is there?