Features Reviews

Watch And Learn: The Duke of Burgundy (2015)

Sex is a topic in modern films that isn’t tackled all that well. Whilst there has been progress made within the past few decades, it is small and barely holds significance. We may be more exposed to sex as an audience but the kind of things we’re exposed to aren’t exactly what we should be seeing. One could write an entire article on the ridiculous sex cliches that mainstream movies like to push. In the interest of avoiding a total tangent here are a few examples: a heterosexual coupling reaching orgasm at the same time, total lack of foreplay and female characters wearing bras in bed.

Some viewers may be able to ignore these things and enjoy the movie but as sex-positive feminist writer, it bugs me that such cliches are presented as if they’re accurate representations of sex. It’s baffling that some are so forgiving of these cliches yet decry unrealistic expectations during pornography. Until things change, it’s worth clinging on to the gems that give a genuine film with not only excellent depictions of sex but relationships. One such gem is The Duke of Burgundy, a story of a professor named Cynthia and the romantic, Dominant/submissive relationship between herself and her partner Evelyn.

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Some of you who’ve read my work before (yes, all four of you) may be wondering why I’m discussing this film when I’d reviewed it when it came out in February 2015. The entire point of Watch And Learn is to discuss films that audiences may have missed and why they’re worth a look. This film was an independent movie that consisted of an essentially all-female cast that covered the subject of BDSM. As far as funding chances go, statistics show that they’d be slim so it’s not surprising this didn’t get a massive amount of distribution.

There was another film that covered BDSM relationships that was released in cinemas across the world days before The Duke of Burgundy that may have also hampered its chances: 50 Shades of Grey. Yes, that same problematic piece of rubbish whose narrative can be kindly compared to a rotten pile of sludge and The Duke of Burgundy just happened to come out at the same time. Both films explore BDSM, relationships and abuse in their films albeit one uses a heterosexual couple and the other uses a lesbian couple. 50 Shades of Grey spends its time romanticizing emotional abuse, showing sexual acts in an intensely unsexy way and so poorly representing BDSM that one has to wonder whether they bothered doing any sort of real research beyond a quick Google search. The Duke of Burgundy shows emotional abuse within a relationship but it’s shown to be a bad thing. The sex isn’t always explicit but the imagination is given free reign to properly imagine it which is aided by the film’s consistent visual spectacle. It’s also very clear that the BDSM elements are consistent and well thought out. In my opinion it’s an insult to compare 50 Shades of Grey with The Duke of Burgundy as it’s akin to comparing the finest cuts of steak to a rotten fish.

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As alluded to earlier, The Duke of Burgundy is a visually stunning film. The use of colours, the breathtaking cinematography, the astounding locations and the wonderful costumes choices all intertwine together to create a rich tableau of compelling imagery that makes this erotic film a seductive work of art. This supports an honest depiction of a relationship through a well written narrative acted by a first rate cast lead by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna to bring to audiences a fantastially raw story that deserves a much greater audience than it has garnered so far.

This film is a must-see especially for anyone into or curious about sex, relationships and BDSM. It’s the perfect antidote against 50 Shades of Grey.

What do you think? 

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