If you thought “Fifty Shades Of Grey” was the first film of the year to explore an unconventional sexual relationship, you’d be wrong.
The plot of “The Duke of Burgundy” reads like a more gender-liberal take on “Fifty Shades” — it traces the sadomasochistic relationship between the dominant Cynthia and her submissive Evelyn.
It’s refreshing to see a film of this ilk starring two women, since most films depicting sexual fantasy tend to go a more traditional route.
Unlike “Shades,” which takes nearly an hour to get to the nitty-gritty, “Burgundy” features strange perversion right from the start and doesn’t let up until the end credits roll.
The relationship on screen in “Burgundy” parallels that in “Fifty Shades” in only the most basic ways. Both films feature kinky sex, safe words, and one partner questioning the sexual decisions she’s made.
In “Fifty Shades,” billionaire Christian Grey is all about control — this is his world, and we’re just living in it. There’s a more methodical yet unexplained air surrounding Cynthia and her sexual deviancy that is explored during the sequences outside of the bedroom.
There’s a lot bubbling beneath the psychological surface here, which is something I can’t say about “Fifty Shades” with a straight face.
“Burgundy’s” visual style is its greatest asset, and there’s plenty of meaning to be derived from the juxtaposition of images on screen. The “plot” is minimal in that the movie is about their relationship and nothing more, but writer/director Peter Strickland takes this material and runs with it, weaving a thought-provoking, engaging mind game in the process.
The kinks in “Burgundy” are far more bizarre than the blasé whips, belts and ropes in “Shades.”
Strickland has a unique flair for visuals that somehow renders the abnormal perfectly prim and proper. The audience should be gasping aloud when Evelyn enters a bathroom for a very specific “shower” scene, but it’s so artfully shot and tastefully presented that the intimate moment feels completely healthy and normal in context.
It’s an impressive (and rare) feat for a director to command the space well enough to make an audience enjoy something completely out of their comfort zone.
By comparison, “Fifty Shades” is far more on the nose and lacks any and every subtlety that “Burgundy” employs. The characters speak in stiff, unnatural quips that garnered more chuckles from the audience than genuine intrigue. The audience laughed plenty during “Burgundy,” but only when it was appropriate and always “with” it, never “at” it.
“The Duke Of Burgundy” takes domineering control over the viewer right away while “Fifty Shades” just flounders, lying limp, submitting to the horrid exchanges found in the book with no intention of elevating it.
“The Duke of Burgundy” is now playing in select cities and available on VOD via cable providers. You can also pre-order the film on iTunes.
Watch the trailer:
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