Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fetishistic Whimsy

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) - Strickland
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A primp woman, Everlyn (Chiara D'Anna), walks to a vine covered grand old mansion. She is a maid and she is late. The lady of the house, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a proper lady in dolled up hair and silk stockings, coldly orders Everlyn around while reading or typing something. The wall is covered with collection of butterflies and moths and chrysalides. Cynthia is an entomologist who belongs to a society of women scholars it seems. Everlyn seems to get off washing Cynthia's colorful underwear and peeping on her master when she is changing to various lingerie.

This master/slave relationship turns out to be a game between two lesbian lovers. They follow scripted scenarios in endless cycle. It's demanding Everlyn's idea to be punished: be sat on, locked in a trunk, peed on and so on an so forth. Older Cynthia seems to be on hand at Everlyn's every whim and desires.

You can't help comparing Strickland's sumptuous craftmanship to French duo Hélèn Catet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears) who also dabble in giallo inspired filmmaking. Only here, his style is much more classy and refined. Throwing in some repressed, prudish English attitude to female sexuality, you get a definite winner.

Collecting insect has been a center of other films, most notably Philip Haas' Angels and Insects, a British chamber piece based on A.S. Byatt's writing. In it, Byatt metaphorically uses bug collecting hobbies as main character's entrapment in a rigid society where perversion and cruelty rule the day. In Silence of the Lambs, it signifies Buffalo Bill's belief in transformation. No metaphorical musings in The Duke of Burgundy. Butterfly motifs are used as decorous, with its colorful wings and soft texture, adding to the fetishistic whimsy of two lovers in a man-less world Strickland creates.

But it's breathtakingly gorgeous though, and very hot! Especially the scene where a irresistible feathered blonde carpenter (Fatma Mohamed) visits to discuss a construction of a tiny bed where lovers can't escape being either on top or bottom.

Strickland confirms himself as one of the leading visual stylists. The Duke of Burgundy lasts a twee bit long for my taste. I would've been perfectly content with the butterfly/moth montage sequence 2/3rd way in as the end.

Beirut Confessional

Birds of September (2013) - Francis
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I can see Birds of September fitting nicely in the catalog of films Havard Sensory Ethnography Lab has put out. A van equipped with large glass panels for sides and back slowly drives around Beirut with interview subjects candidly talking to the unseen director, Sarah Francis. The subjects are usually in the back of the van, sitting on a chair while the background changes constantly as the van weaves around busy traffic, day through night. It has a similar effect of Manakamana or a Kiarostami film. But the interviewees stories are distinctly Lebanese and Beiruti. Downtown Beirut seems very cosmopolitan and secular even though ahan (call to prayer) is heard from time to time. It's also achingly beautiful in rain.

Francis records people from all works of life - unemployed man, nurse, yogi, middle aged business woman. The film has several different layers visually and aurally. Their stories are recorded separately and laid over the subjects as they quietly look around their surroundings. They are separated from their environment by glass walls, yet not. In intervals, a male narrator's philosophical musings (written by Francis) fill the gap. The city with such a violent history seem like just any other place - the subject's lamentations are about the same as our concerns and wishes. 'Loneliness in individualism' bit strikes a cord with me. One of the best films I've seen this year.