Peter Strickland made a splash with “Berberian Sound Studio,” a tribute to giallos that managed to be its own singular thing. He’s done it again with his follow-up “The Duke of Burgundy,” this time with the 70s softcore films of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin, but critics are even more over the moon for this one. The film centers on a sadomasochistic relationship between a timid housekeeper and her severe mistress, but the film’s seductive surfaces gradually reveal a sweet, sad story about the difficulty of keeping a relationship alive, and how partners work hard to please each other with interests that fall outside their own. It’s the year’s strangest and unlikeliest love story, and sure to be one of its best.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
Had it not already been snaffled by Ingmar Bergman, another apt title for the new Peter Strickland film would have been “Persona.” “The Duke of Burgundy,” Strickland’s spectral, seductive third feature, is about the strange imposture of love: the way it can leave you feeling not quite yourself, suspended, even trapped between the person you really are and the person your partner craves. Read more.
Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club
“The Duke Of Burgundy” employs outré subject matter for a magnificently mundane purpose. At its core, this is one of the most incisive, penetrating, and empathetic films ever made about what it truly means to love another person, audaciously disguised as salacious midnight-movie fare. No better picture is likely to surface all year. Read more.
Scott Foundas, Variety
After paying elaborate tribute to Italian giallo horror films in his 2012 “Berberian Sound Studio,” British director Peter Strickland applies much the same formula to the high-toned Euro sexploitation pics of the 1960s and ‘70s in “The Duke of Burgundy,” here with even more striking, singular results. An act of cinephilic homage that transcends pastiche to become its own uniquely sensuous cinematic object, Strickland’s densely layered, slyly funny portrayal of the sadomasochistic affair between two lesbian entomologists tips its hats to such masters of costumed erotica as Jess Franco, Tinto Brass and Jean Rollin, without ever cheapening its strange but affecting love story. Read more.
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
There is exaggeration and a trace of sly humor in the set design, the costumes, the sometimes jarringly jaunty music and the trembling close-ups of leaves, bugs and water. There is also a sense of surrealist sexual comedy in the way Evelyn and Cynthia’s exchanges of power are performed. But in the end there is nothing especially campy about “The Duke of Burgundy,” which neither mocks its heroines nor the breathless, naughty screen tradition to which they belong. It’s a love story, and also a perversely sincere (and sincerely perverse) labor of love. Read more.
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
The film also has a playfulness and humor about sex that relieves some of the tension, from the offhand shots of Cynthia downing glasses of water to a great scene where the two consider a hand-crafted bed that can double as a spring-loaded coffin. (A “human toilet consultant” also nabs a screen credit.) And Strickland’s use of sound, which has been a central feature of his work since his 2009 debut feature “Katalin Varga,” heightens the atmosphere and occasionally nudges the film into avant-garde flourishes. Read more.
Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice
“The Duke of Burgundy” might have stopped at being a lush work of parody, and a pleasingly effective one at that. But Strickland builds it, artfully, into a complex and ultimately moving essay on the privileges of victimhood and the nuances of what it means to suffer for love. Read more.