Filmmaker Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is inspired by sexploitation films of the early ‘70s but then takes the genre a step further by focusing on the emotional and romantic ties between a couple.
“What I liked about [this genre] was, by most people, the films are not even known, or they’re known and seen as disreputable, disregarded. It’s not violence. You can always have violence. But sex is always kind of shameful in cinema, so [the films] are always going to put to one corner,” Strickland tells The Moveable Fest. “[The Duke of Burgundy] started off taking some of the obvious elements—the sadomasochism, the female lovers and some of the fantastical stuff, but I took it in a very, very domestic context. I wanted this to be a very tender film about love…It gets dark at times, but it’s always meant to be about consent and tenderness.”
The film purposefully exists in an undetermined time and location. “For me, this one could be in the future when the oil runs out. They’re using bicycles to go everywhere. It could be any time from 1950 onwards,” Strickland says. “I wanted it to be like a fable and a lot of the fables I used to read as a kid, they never really had a place. It’s always about immersing yourself in the story. Erase that idea of place, of time, the male gender and jobs. It is preposterous. How the hell could you afford that kind of house? They don’t do anything. The insects are their hobby and it’s not even their job. They just lounge around all day having sex. It is absurd, but hopefully so absurd you just accept it and focus only on their relationship.”
Strickland also stresses the importance of setting aside outside influences when making his very personal films. “It is weird because no one believes it when a filmmaker says you have no idea how it’s going to work with an audience, but you don’t. That’s the beauty of it,” he explains. “When you make a film, be very tunnel-visioned and focus on your obsessions and not give a damn about trends or what an audience wants or not even yourself in terms of what they want from you based on your last film.”
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