The Film (5/5)
Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio was one of my favorite films of 2012. Not only did I think the film itself was phenomenal, but the score by Broadcast was so good, I had to secure a physical copy to own. When Strickland announced his follow up film the Duke of Burgundy I knew I would see it, but when he announced that his influences for this film would run the gamut from Jean Rollin and Jess Franco to more arthouse fare like Stan Brakhage and Luis Bunuel I knew it would easily become a favorite.
Berberian Sound Studio to digress a moment used the giallo as a jumping off point for Strickland's own visual and thematic ideas. The influences could be seen for those that wanted to see them, but the film was pure Strickland. When a film is typically tagged as giallo inspired, it is usually very surface level and wears the clichés the of the genre in a very distinct manner. On that same level Strickland appropriated the films of the Eurosleaze directors of the 1970's and made something that is distinctly his own for the Duke of Burgundy.
The Duke of Burgundy follows Cynthia and Evelyn. Cynthia owns a large Victorian style home, and Evelyn is her servant. Every morning Evelyn rides her bike across the village to Cynthia's home, knocks on the door, and waits. She is then let in, and cleans the house, the lingerie, and other household tasks. Cynthia is distant and domineering, Evelyn is quiet, and submissive. However, as the days pass initial images are not what they appear to be, and this working relationship proves to be anything but. Cynthia at first appears to be the dominant in the relationship, but we discover that she is just playing the part of the dominant for her submissive lover Evelyn. The relationship which appears on the surface to be employee/employer is anything but, and is in fact part of an elaborate game that becomes ever more complex as time goes on.
The film has a powerful visual style that channels the look more of 1970's British folk horror more so than the 1970's Eurosleaze it purports to be inspired by. Strickland's use of color throughout is absolutely fantastic. The Duke of Burgundy takes place in the autumn and early winter, and as such, it has a color scheme of dark brown, oranges, and yellows that give the film a nice warm ambiance. This ambiance also carries over into the interiors, though those are much more colorful.
Strickland through his use of repetition also manages to create a truly hypnotic and dreamlike atmosphere. This is further hammered home by the understated and powerful performances by the leading pair (Sidse Babbett Knudsen and Chiara D'anna). There performances show great amounts of restraint, yet massive amount of emotion, and a certain lived in quality. The dreamy ambiance is further added to by the excellent pop soundtrack by Cat's Eye.
Shout! Factory in conjunction with IFC present the Duke of Burgundy in a spectacular 2:35:1 MPEG-4 AVC encoded Blu-ray. The Blu-ray is an absolute stunner, colors look bright and pop, and also natural where need be, fine detail is excellent, and black levels are inky and deep.
The audio is handled by a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English with optional subtitles. The track sounds excellent with dialogue coming through clean and crisp, and the score by Cat's eye coming though nicely. I did not detect any issues otherwise.
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray of Duke of Burgundy comes packed with pretty much anything a fan of the film could possibly want out of an extras. There is a commentary track with director Peter Strickland, and also an on camera interview, his short film Conduct Phase, deleted scenes, a Cat's Eye video, trailer, and stills gallery.
The Duke of Burgundy is currently my favorite film of 2015, and will likely retain that position. Peter Strickland has channeled his Eurosleaze influences into something is uniquely his own. The Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing, and comes loaded with extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.