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Is The Duke of Burgundy Gay Positive?

Is The Duke of Burgundy Gay Positive?


Peter Strickland's film about S&M lesbian lovers is a throwback to a different era. His next is going to be all-male and set in the time 'between Stonewall and AIDS.'


The Duke of Burgundy, which opened in select cinemas (and VOD) January 23, is about lesbian lovers Cynthia and Evelyn who enact an elaborate S&M fantasy as mistress and maid. Oh, and don't be confused, the title is referring to a species of butterflies (one of the characters is a sexy lepidopterist, naturally).

Directed by Peter Strickland, the film is created in a highly stylized aesthetic to reference European erotic melodramas of the '60s and '70s -- Strickland says it's in the style of Jess Franco --a nd A.O. Scott, in hisNew York Times review, wrote: "The grainy voluptuousness of the images and the sighing languor and exquisite decor in which these characters dwell conjure an atmosphere of pseudo-aristocratic post-'60s grind-house Euro-sex." Which isn't necessarily a compliment.

The all-female cast -- starring Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna, Monica Swinn, Eugenia Caruso, and Fatma Mohammed -- live in a lush utopia of sorts, despite all the pleasure in pain. And since it's an all-female world, then he says the women aren't actually lesbians.

In a Q&A supplied by IFC, the film's distributor, Strickland said that he had issues with having a man be either dominant or submissive in the film. "The purest thing would've been to have two men, but I'm working on that for a completely different script," he stated, adding: "You get completely different atmosphere by restricting a film to one gender. I also think that is strange about that is that it doesn't feel like a gay film as such, not that I have a problem with that, my next film is explicitly gay, but I don't want that to be the subject of this one. It would distract the audience from the central theme, which is about couples having incompatible desires. It doesn't matter what you're into, being trampled on, whatever, it could be the smallest thing, but who is doing the compromising?"

In another interview with IndieWire, he discusses the next, all-gay film, explaining:

"It's set in the early '80s, or 1980. I can tell you a little bit. I wanted to delve into this period between Stonewall and AIDS, this oasis in western history where gay men were completely free to have this hedonistic lifestyle and there were no social consequences, no medical consequences. They could just run free and had they not had that repression prior to that, it might not have been as intense. That sense of release from being ashamed of who you are. I was really fascinated by [electronic dance music composer] Patrick Cowley's life, not as a biopic because he was based in San Francisco, of course, but I wanted to take that to New York, where the first filmmakers I knew were Nick Zedd and Bruce LaBruce. My first job was for the LaBruce film Skin Flick, so that whole thing in New York -- the Paradise Garage, Danceteria, The Pyramid Club -- I love."

But back to Duke, Michael Musto wrote that he found it "well crafted but a potential throwback to the Killing of Sister George days of dykes hurting each other." In a Q&A after a recent screening in New York City, Strickland told the audience that he feels the film is gay positive because, "I wanted to normalize what they do. I didn't want to judge it." He added, "The idea of being gay in cinema usually revolves around acceptance or rejection. But in this film, there are no counterparts to what they are. You focus only on the dynamics of the relationship."

Or all the bugs and butterflies.

Watch the trailer below:

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