Hailed by The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman (the very same man who gave five stars to my most loathed film of 2014, Exhibition) with no fewer than four stars, The Duke of Burgundy has also been described by another Guardian reviewer, Steve Rose, who said: “Fifty Shades of Grey looks positively beige compared to this.”
And, what’s more, all the reviews seem to be glowing…
“One of the most incisive, penetrating,
and empathetic films ever made”
Having not seen or read Fifty Shades and giving The Guardian a second chance, I went along to the Curzon Soho to see The Duke of Burgundy.
Big mistake (and not just the £27 for two tickets). It is the dullest, most unerotic, repetitious, overhyped, woodenly acted, badly photographed (a kind of pastiche of a ’70s Swedish sex movie and Claude Lelouch’s ’60s A Man and a Woman look, complete with overly large wobbly titles) and derivative film so far this year. It also features the most unappealingly dreadful underwear, sported by Sidse Babett Knudsen (who played the prime minister in the TV series Borgen). What was she thinking?
The basic story centres on two lesbians who live in an enormous house. When not reading, writing or lecturing on butterflies – the film’s title is taken from the name of a butterfly – they spend their time playing out sadomasochistic sexual fantasies in various changes of outfits. They re-enact these over and over and over and over. Then the film ends abruptly in true continental cinema fashion to give it a more ‘arty’ feel.
Jordan Hoffman also pointed out that “this is not just a filthy movie. It’s a considerable work of art, and one that touches on a rarely discussed side of human sexuality completely free of judgement.” It did none of this for me, and this comment says a lot more about Hoffman’s view.
The only saving grace was a couple of visually psychedelic moments accompanied by an ascending ambient sound track, which was rather mesmerising, or it could have been the effect of my losing the will to live. But the effects have been handled far better in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (which Strickland must clearly like) and Lars von Trier’s wonderful Melancholia.
Peter Strickland also made Berberian Sound Studio, which, although better, had its moments of tedium. I sometime wonder if the folks at the BFI and Channel 4 (the backers) produce this sort of film to annoy or torture the audience? To top it all, I picked up The Telegraph and critic Robbie Collins had given the film five stars. I give up.
As a bit of light relief, the film is said not to feature a single male actor. But if you look closely, there is one scene set in a lecture theatre where, tucked in the back row, there is a man. If you keep looking, there are two seated manikins for no apparent reason. Or perhaps they were an ironic gesture to symbolise boredom. That really did work.
If you are going to see this film for its erotic charge, you will be bitterly disappointed. Save your money, stay home and watch Wolf Hall.