Following last weekend’s record-breaking reception for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” another sadomasochistic drama opens locally this weekend.
Unlike the big mainstream success that welcomed the sexual adventures and Christian Grey and virginal college senior Anastasia Steele, only a small audience will see “The Duke of Burgundy.” It opens Friday at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center.
A British film, “The Duke of Burgundy” owes heavy debts to the hullucinagentic cinema of David Lynch and horror films of Todd Browning and French horror-erotica filmmaker Jean Rollin. Despite being derivative, “The Duke of Burgundy,” written and directed by Peter Strickland, is stylish. Using a limited budget, a few sets and two principal characters, the film’s deep colors and shadows bloom luxuriously.
Strickland injects non-linier storytelling and graphic montages. The lives of Cynthia, an amateur lepidopterist (the study of moths and butterflies) and her housekeeper, Evelyn, circle in spheres of sadomasochistic playfulness.
There’s spare dialogue in “The Duke of Burgundy.” Most of it consists of soft words spoken between the lesbian lovers in the dark.
Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Cynthia, the authoritarian woman of the house, which sits near what could pass for an enchanted forest. She and Evelyn, played by the petite but steely Chiara D’Anna, play rituals and games involving Evelyn’s “punishments.”
At first, Cynthia goes happily along. The two women fall in love. But Cynthia isn’t getting any younger. She wearies of the games Evelyn loves to play. Soon, it’s becomes distressingly clear to Evelyn that Cynthia’s heart isn’t in it.
Cynthia’s disenchantment with her lover’s demands provide mild amusement. The film also turns jarringly dark when Strickland stages eerie nightmares and maybe a murder. This is where the Browning, Lynch and Rollin imagery pops from the closets.
Knudsen and D’Anna’s well-measured performances suit Strickland’s concentrated erotic terrain well. The tale the director tells, though, is too slight to withstand the demands of a full-length feature film. Strickland’s filmmaking craft is admirable, but his story never commands the audience do its bidding.