Q&A with Peter Strickland!

Having improbably and triumphantly blended Italian giallo with British midlife angst in Berberian Sound Studio, director Peter Strickland returns with a May-September romance nested in a ’70s Euro lesbian fantasia. With a nod to Jean Genet, Evelyn (Berberian Sound Studio’s Chiara D’Anna) and Cynthia (Borgen’s Sidse Babbett Knudsen) enact a maid-mistress domination ritual, but while entomologist Cynthia takes on the role of stringent employer, it’s the younger, increasingly restless Evelyn dictating the terms of their relationship. So lush that its opening titles credit perfume and lingerie, The Duke of Burgundy, named for a species of butterfly, weds Jess Franco’s softcore aesthetic to the female codependency of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, with trapped insect symbolism recalling William Wyler’s The Collector. Yet Strickland goes beyond pastiche to fashion a work that is both deliciously kinky and heartrendingly intimate. A Sundance Selects release.

Followed by:

Mano Destra
Cleo Übelmann, Switzerland, 1986, Digibeta, 53m
Cleo Übelmann’s seldom-seen meditation on restraint and anticipation transcends its bondage trappings with obsessively composed cinematography and evocative foley. At first, reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jetée, the seeming stillness is betrayed by the occasional twitch of a calf muscle under the severe rope trickery. Übelmann’s ice-cold approach to form serves the subject matter perfectly, as both willing “captive” and audience submit to waiting and waiting. High-heel footsteps within varying distances are what either promise or deny us and the submissive any release, both literal and metaphorical. I saw Mano Destra at London’s Scala Cinema over 20 years ago, and some of the ideas found in it, as well as some of its tenderness (underneath the minimal, chilly surfaces), were strong influences on The Duke of Burgundy. Along with the films of Monika Treut, MM Serra, and Maria Beatty, Mano Destra is a vital and covert exploration of different desires in the absence of men.—Peter Strickland