Saturday 19 December 2015

The Duke Of Burgundy (2015) - Movie Review

http://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.comIn a society where Rule 34 is enforced by smut peddlers on a global scale, we have grown strangely accustomed to a wide variety of sexual practices. That is to say that we have found a way to look at pretty much any sex act and turn it into something to mock. I would argue that this is just a more harmless side effect of our collective attitudes to whatever isn’t of the norm, except it may not actually be harmless. Sure, making fun of people who think that being a member of NAMBLA is something to be proud of is more than fair; they should be more than used to the idea of being taken advantage of against their wishes. However, take something far less repulsive at its core like, say, BDSM. It undoubtedly falls into that general umbrella of “it’s your business what goes in the bedroom”, yet it is usually treated as either an easy target for jokes or an easy target for exploitation. As much as I think Fifty Shades Of Grey is far too silly to be taken seriously as a depiction of that lifestyle, it is still another in a long line of films that never think to treat it as something that humans do. Enter today’s film, which looks set to try and change that.

The plot: To all outward appearances, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her protégé Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) seem like any other ordinary teacher-student pairing. However, what goes on behind closed doors, particularly in the bedroom, is far from what people would consider “ordinary”. They live a content life fulfilling a BDSM roleplay for each other, but soon the rigid structure of their activities begins to wear on Cynthia’s mind. As their boundaries are pushed further and further, it seems like their relationship may come to a very bitter end.

One of the biggest problems when it comes to any kind of erotic cinema is, basically, down to human biology. In order to really work, such a film has to appeal to both the emotional and instinctual sides of the audience. Trouble is, this involves appealing to both the brain and the… other brain, and the human body doesn’t have enough blood to run both of them at the same time. As a result, filmmakers usually either make exceptionally boring films with pretences of eroticism or the kind of films that horny teenagers hunt down clips for on YouTube for ‘the articles’. It is amazingly rare to find a film that satisfies both areas. This is why Secretary is one of the few counterpoints being brought up in response to Fifty Shades; because it is seriously one of the very few that exist. That, and it’s hard to ignore how similar the names of the male leads are. Well, time to add another entry to that shortlist.

As much as I am beginning to think that reviewing Peter Pan XXX wasn’t the best idea I’ve had this year, it is still a good thing I looked at it in retrospect because it helps give some clarity for probably this film’s biggest strength: It is subtle. Yeah, the film about a dominant/submissive relationship that requires one of them to constantly be drinking water actually knows what it’s doing in terms of subtlety. Even with how… different their expression of love for each other can get, it never goes into the hideously graphic. It’s tastefully shot, Knudsen and D’Anna have remarkable chemistry and, probably most surprising of all, it portrays certain sexual kinks in a way that gives definite respect to those who partake in them. This isn’t merely an exercise in showing the less vanilla methods of love, but rather an attempt to humanise it; something that is desperately needed after the horrors that arrived earlier in the year.

This is an amazingly well written relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn, delving far beneath the surface of the more commonly accepted BDSM stereotypes. Cynthia is the dominant half and, while she is more than happy to oblige Evelyn’s want to be lorded over, she wonders on occasion if she is going too far. There are even points in the film where she actively takes on the role, even against Evelyn’s wishes. Evelyn may be the submissive but she is by no means without power; she’s actually the brains behind most of the operation. She may like being the slave but that doesn’t mean that she always likes to be humiliated; the fantasy and the reality don’t have to intersect, as she does worry about being made a fool of in public.

When the two connect, the strict schedule that their role-playing follows understandably leads to friction after a while; it may be a cliché to say that being spontaneous in a relationship is often needed, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Cynthia wants to express her feelings in more ways than acting cold to her and, as a result, Evelyn starts to feel unfulfilled herself. But probably the best part about how their coupling is depicted is also something shockingly simple: When a problem arises, they solve it together. They fight, and things do get dark in places, but never irreversibly so. In short, they are an ordinary couple regardless of their bedroom antics. There’s even a few moments that, dare I say it, are kind of relatable in their own way, like when Evelyn asks to be let out of a wooden trunk because her leg is itchy.

Since the film’s content never really delves into the realm of actual porn, Peter Strickland decided to stick to film school porn instead. First off, without making the frame feel unnaturally cold except when it is genuinely called for, Strickland and cinematographer Nic Knowland give a certain darkly erotic tinge to the production, verging on the edge between sensual and dangerous; fitting, given the subject matter. There’s also the insect motif which, while simultaneously obtuse and heavy-handed, does grant the film some truly gorgeous imagery and a particularly unnerving sequence where they swarm the screen. The soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes strikes a similar chord in terms of tone, going from beautiful nights-by-the-fireplace pieces to more chilling and frantic numbers.

All in all, this is a dark, very well-crafted and cleverly written romance. The acting is excellent, the production values are probably some of the best I’ve seen all year and the writing brings a lot of normalcy and genuine humanity into a subject that rarely gets any respect. Rather than being an ill thought-out fetishisation, this film wanted to show both the positive and negative sides of such an arrangement and make it less of an absolute taboo. In all honesty, Strickland did a fantastic job at doing exactly that.

No comments:

Post a Comment