“The Duke of Burgundy” (2015)

12It’s barely three weeks into its theatrical release, but we’re feeling pretty damn confident about Peter Strickland’s BDSM masterpiece “The Duke of Burgundy.” Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna lead an all-female cast as two lovers who love to role-play, love to dominate and be dominated (respectively), but above all else, love each other. The film studies the ebbs and flows of their relationship, as it seems to drift away from its once-passionate sensations, in a similar manner to how Knudsen’s Cynthia studies the evolutionary cycles of butterflies. Thanks to the film’s creative liberty, Strickland’s way of tapping into inspirations and paying homage to influences (which we’ve recently unpacked here), and the two central performances from Knudsen and D’Anna that give new meaning to the phrase “opposites attract,” ‘Duke’ is sensational cinema reaching the highest heights without ever resorting to kitschy sensationalism, including one sequence that directly points to Stan Brakhage and will leave you with fluttering butterflies in your stomach. With every cinematic element working in perfect unity, the film’s greatest achievement is that for an hour and 40 minutes, it makes you feel like you’re watching the only BDSM movie that has ever existed, with even its clearest ancestor (“The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant”) a distant memory. As far as 2015 S&M romance is concerned, it’s your move ‘Fifty Shades.’ Good luck with that.

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