I fucked up and missed the opening 15 minutes of last Sunday's SFF screening of The Duke of Burgundy, my last movie at this year's fest. Chalk it up to a bad case of festivalitis: too many movies, too many 5:00 AM alarms for work.
No biggie, I loved what I saw and will be returning to this baroque and beautiful alternate reality as soon as it gets a theatrical release here. Peter Strickland's mysterious, forested world - populated solely by women, all of whom seem to have a BDSM fetish and an academic fascination with butterflies and moths - is seductive and intoxicating. It's a place that I couldn't stop thinking about after the credits had rolled.
Strickland has captured the look and feel of classic European erotic artsploitation so perfectly you could be forgiven for thinking that you're watching a forgotten, unearthed gem from that bygone era. But this isn't simply a case of immaculately copying the style of another era with no real substance to back it up. Strickland's script is strong and his direction assured, firmly establishing a hypnotic, druggy atmosphere, then patiently weaving a story that's intriguing, weird, hilarious and ultimately very sad.
Lead actresses Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen shine as the film's two central characters, Evelyn and Cynthia. Both women have charisma to spare in challenging roles that demand a wide range: perfect comic timing, awkwardly stilted formality, lustful passion and heartrending melancholy.
Cinematographer Nic Knowland (whose credits include Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio and 1980's The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle) fills the movie with an impressive array of visual delights: trippy, spectral lens flares; moody, windswept woods; carefully composed interior shots that use mirrors and reflections to disorient the viewer; a prolonged psychedelic dream sequence that will take your breath away. Add to that Hungarian production designer Pater Sparrow's eye for meticulous detail, and we have a strong contender for best looking movie of the year.
The final piece of the puzzle that makes The Duke of Burgundy such a perfect cinematic throwback to the films of Franco, Fassbinder and Borowczyk is Cat's Eyes' sublime, ethereal score. Listen to a couple of tracks below (as well as a look at the film's opening title sequence).
Along with Benson and Moorhead's Spring, The Duke of Burgundy was the easy winner for me at this year's SFF. An instant classic and very highly recommended.