In a very short space of time, Peter Strickland has become one of those directors whose films become essential viewing. There are very few film makers working today who have the same understanding and application of sound and imagery in their work as the British maestro. Berberian Sound Studio was a masterclass in audio-visual horror. In his latest film, The Duke of Burgundy, he uses a similar visual aesthetic, but returns to the dreamlike presence of his first film, Katalin Varga.
A young maid, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), knocks on the door of a leafy ancient country house. The door is eventually answered by the imperious Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) who informs her that she’s late. Evelyn then sets about her duties around the house whilst Cynthia haughtily ignores her endeavours. Until the maid fails to complete her tasks to Cynthia’s satisfaction. Then, she is suitably punished.
In Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland paid homage to ’70s Italian horror. The Duke of Burgundy is in a sense his love letter to European art-house erotica from the same period. However, there’s much more to it than that. On one level it’s a meditation on the very essence of relationships. On another, it’s a rather oblique allegory to the habits of the butterfly of the same name.
The Duke of Burgundy is a beautiful aural and visual feast. The soundtrack by Cats Eyes adds to its dreamy lethargy, whilst the chipped dialogue heightens the air of mystery.
The Duke of Burgundy is out in cinemas now.