If artistic lesbian sex isn’t your thing, The Duke of Burgundy will not be your kind of movie. If you’re uncomfortable with dominance and submission play, The Duke of Burgundy will not be your thing. Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) begins the film looking like a stern mistress to the young-look waif of a student, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna). She sips her wine and forces Evelyn to polish her boots and clean her panties, like a good house maid. However, in privacy we see Cynthia seems terrified to be in this position. She looks upon her lover Evelyn with deep love and respect and seems uncomfortable at the insistence that dominance be the name of the game and verbal abuse be common during their sexual play. These moments are interrupted by lectures on moths and butterflies. I’m not making this up.
The Duke of Burgundy is most certainly not for everyone. While the settings are vivid and beautiful, the music entrancing and the costuming fascinating, the story at times feels more like an excuse for softcore lesbian dominance porn with a bit of a butterfly lecture mixed in for a break. Evelyn constantly “tops from the bottom,” telling her lover how to be a more dominant figure. She tells her to have more conviction in her voice and it is obvious from Cynthia’s lack of interest in between scenes that she would prefer to just be a lesbian couple, minus the additional flair. Evelyn’s obsession with the erotic aspects of life clearly does not jive well with Cynthia’s love of tradition.
The costuming in the film is intentionally beautiful, with most of the styles appearing to be a 1960’s European style, coupled with the occasional outfit from an entirely different period. Tight pencil skirts and carefully contemplated lingerie go a long way in this film. To give you an idea of how much though goes into the characters, this film even included a budget for perfume.
If you are uncomfortable with BDSM, lesbianism or just don’t like art films, I would skip The Duke of Burgundy. If you’d like a look into a lifestyle you may know little about, this is a very artistic way to go about it. It is a little less Eyes Wide Shut and a bit more Tipping the Velvet.
The Duke of Burgundy is in select theaters January 23, 2015.