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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 12.08.14] United Kingdom drama

The thing about Peter Strickland is that he is a director very much concerned with style. With Berberian Sound Studio (review), Strickland took on a fascinating premise and delivered a great concept for a short film which was then stretched beyond all reasonable measure into an unreasonably long and boring full length feature and The Duke of Burgundy follows a very similar trajectory and even though the films are far apart on plot basics and even style, many of the same themes permeate through both movies.

This time around, Strickland tackles old school erotic dramas with a tale about two women engaged in a relationship with sadomasochistic tendencies. Cynthia is the wealthy woman who spends her days studying butterflies and punishing Evelyn for her inability to follow the rules. It seems at first that Cynthia is quite content, and even happy, with her role in the relationship but as The Duke of Burgundy progresses, the cracks in the women's relationship begin to show and it's soon clear that though Cynthia might be the one doing the punishing, the relationship dynamics are far more complicated than they appear on the surface.

Again, Strickland delivers a fascinating story concept that manages to drag on for longer than the conceit allows. In truth, Strickland's movie looks fantastic with its bold and straight forward visuals. There's a gorgeous lushness to the movie that permeates every frame and which is beautifully accompanied by a haunting score from Cat's Eyes, giving The Duke of Burgundy a feel of something that is both erotic and creepy and straight out of the 70s. Strickland's problem is neither technical nor aesthetic. The movie looks and sounds stupendous and for the first act, is effective in captivating the audience, it's the remainder of the movie that, like its predecessor, doesn't work.

As with Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy continues on in droning fashion, with the women talking about butterflies, Cynthia preparing for her next encounter with her lover and the women coming up with new ways of satisfying Evelyn's need to be dominated. There's something really beautiful about the women's relationship and the way in which Cynthia bends to her lover's request, as unpleasant as she might find them. Sadly, anything of interest about the relationship is drowned out by the movie's incessant unpleasantness. After a while, the entire thing collapses under the tedium and repetition to the point where anything of interest in the relationship dynamics slips away, overpowered by boredom.

I was drawn in by the opening of The Duke of Burgundy and can appreciate how some might find Strickland's pacing and his penchant for repetition appealing but after a while, Strickland's persistence stopped being interesting and became annoying to the point that I just wanted it to be over already. Essentially, much the same reaction I had to his previous movie.

Recommended Release: Berberian Sound Studio

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