Wednesday, September 16, 2015

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Shout! Factory

Release Date: September 29th 2015 
Region Code: A
Duration: 104 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Chiara D'Anna, Eszter Tompa, Eugenia Caruso, Fatma Mohamed, Monica Swinn, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Zita Kraszkó

The Duke of Burgundy comes to us by way of Director Peter Strickland whose previous movie, the tense Giallo homage Berberian Sound Studio, was a film that split viewers right down the middle, either you thought it was a pretentious slice of arthouse cinema and loathed it or you thought it was an arthouse slice of cinema and loved it. I firmly fell into the latter category as I have love for both the stylized Italian whodunit and for the artier side of world cinema, ever since an accidental screening of the Krzysztof Kieślowski movie The Double Life of Véronique (1991) during my formative teen years, truth be known I loved '90s arthouse long before I discovered the whodunit movies of Sergio Martino and Dario Argento. 

Being a fan of arthouse helped my viewing, but point in fact when The Duke of Burgundy arrived I was not aware of who directed it until I put it on for a watch. It was evident from the very beginning that this would be one of those artier viewings though, one with a heavy European cinema flavor beginning with an atmospheric chamber pop score from composers Cat's Eye, whom provided a dreamy chamber pop score to accompany the baroque cinematography. 

Set in the idyllic countryside of some undefined European place we have the icy butterfly researcher Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, Borgen) living in a somewhat run down estate nestled away in a fairytale-esque woodland area. She is visited by  Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna, Berberian Sound Studio), a younger woman who performs chores around the home for Cynthia, but it quickly becomes evident that the two are lovers and this role playing routine is mere foreplay before the sadomasochistic sex and bondage games begins, but this is some seriously restrained stuff, don't come in expecting a lurid spectacle or you will be disappointed.  

As the movie plays on we see the two lovers repeat the cycle with the unhappy mistress and incompetent maid routine with slight variations, it's a strange and wonderful sort of erotic game, minus the nudity but with an atmosphere and stylish cinematography. What we have here is an interesting examination of the power dynamics of the women's relationship, while Cynthia at first glance seems to be the dominant it becomes very clear that the Evelyn craves the punishments layed upon her and she becomes increasingly frustrated when Cynthia does not completely embrace her role as the icy sadomasochistic mistress. While this is a world I am not familiar with with any amount of authority, I loved the way its portrayed and acted in the film, the relationship is layered and complex, with Strickland focusing not on the lurid aspects, including some hinted at water sports, but instead focusing on the quirky relationship of the women and what they're willing to sacrifice to make the other happy, and the toll that takes on both.

The world Strickland has created seems carved out of a fantasy, the setting is evocative of the eighteenth century, the women travel on bicycles, there are no men present and no modern conveniences of note, and it doesn't are to explain any of the idiosyncrasies. Strickland also seems to avoid the more fantasy driven male gaze and the story has a more feminine touch, watching it I would not have guessed that a man had directed this one. 

Visually the movie feels like an authentic slice of '70s European cinema with slow, gorgeous cinematography with a slightly hazy fairytale aesthetic with a painter's eye and a languid pace that might prove to be an acquired taste for some viewers, but I loved it. On top of that there's the lush chamber pop orchestrations of composer's Cat's Eye who created the score, a wonderful blend of string and wind instrumentation that perfectly compliments the visuals.

Audio/Video: The Duke of Burgundy looks superb on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, framed in the original scope aspect ratio it opens up wonderfully on screen with a vibrancy of color, more often than not settling for an array of earth tones. The image is crisp and clean, not sure if this was shot on film but it certainly feels that way to me, this feels like an art from the '70s in the best possible way

The English DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround sounds great, an immersive experience with subtle use of the surrounds, the buoyant and atmospheric score from Cat's Eye sounds superb, optional English SDH subtitles are provided. This is a score I would love to own, I wish there had been an isolated score option on the Blu-ray disc. 

Extras on the disc include an audio commentary with director Peter Strickland, plus a 12-minute video interview, both offering some fascinating insight about the making of the movie and it's Eurocult influences. We also have 44-minutes of deleted scenes with a text-intro for each from the director explaining the scene and the various reasons they weren't used in the final cut of the movie. Additionally we have a Cat's Eye promo, one of Strickland's early short movies 'Conduct Phase', a gallery and a theatrical trailer for the movie, plus a bonus DVD with the same content as the Blu-ray. 

Bonus Features

- Audio Commentary By Director Peter Strickland
- Interview With Director Peter Strickland (12 Mins) HD
- Deleted Scenes (44 Mins) HD 
- Cat's Eye Promo (5 Mins) HD 
- Short Film – Conduct Phase (8 Mins) HD 
- Still Gallery (103 Images) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

In some ways I think this movie is being marketed as a kink or erotic movie, and while that may not be untrue, it is  more along the way of the more refined erotic movies produced by Radley Metzger in the '70s minus the lurid sex and infused with a feminine European sensuality, more so than anything from Jess Franco or Jean Rollin, but you can definitely feel the influence of both upon the director and the movie. The Duke of Burgundy is a quirky little love story wrapped up in some dazzling arthouse wrappings, it certainly won't be for everyone one, but I loved it, and look forward to Peter Strickland's next movie. 4/5