With a narrative built on repetition – the cyclical nature of seasons, feelings and passions – The Duke of Burgundy’s unique structure defies traditional plot and narrative in favour of sensations and experiences. The film most notably has credits in the opening sequence for both the choice fragrance and the lingerie designs, a hint at the precedence luxury and sensuality has within this world. It becomes abundantly clear that breaking the film down in terms of plot betrays its absolute appeal as a masterpiece in haptic vision. (‘Haptic’ refers to ‘touching with your eyes’, though how can we similarly evoke the sensation of smell? Film criticism is lacking in this regard. We need an extensive study on the evocation of smell in cinema, just as there are studies on the way filmmakers conjure sound and music in silent cinema.) Written and directed by Peter Strickland, the film is about a lesbian couple engaged in an increasingly escalated S&M relationship, and when they’re not role-playing, they are lepidopterists (they study butterflies and moths).
A couple of years ago, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio seemed to materialise from the ether and spear the hearts of giallo and cult murder movie fans everywhere with its exquisitely executed homage to the murdering grounds of Argento, Bava and Martino, so his long-anticipated follow-up as been eagerly received throughout the international festival circuit. This time Strickland has mounted a similar etymology of cult movie history in the form of 1970’s Eurotrash exploitation pictures, soft-core seductions from the likes of Jess Franco or Umberto Lenzi, with a reincarnation complete with creeping zooms, trance-like montages, and a rather flippant approach to narrative coherence, sacrificed on the altar of pure cinematic sensation.
Unless someone conjures up The Gaffer Murders, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio must be the most affectionate fictional feature-length tribute to a specific technical discipline of filmmaking ever made. Too often, movies about making movies are happy to stick to generalities and well-worn tropes; the demanding director, the exiled writer, the beleaguered star, the starlet no one takes seriously. Strickland takes the opposite tack, luxuriating in the minutiae of moviemaking as a means to investigate not only our relationship with screen violence, but the dynamics that lurk within those who seek to conjure it.
Berberian Sound Studio Written and directed by Peter Strickland UK, …