Saturday, August 1, 2015


A young woman rides her bicycle through lush European countryside. She arrives at an impressively ancient manse and rings the bell. After a brief pause an older woman answers and says: "you're late." She leads her visitor into the study and forbids her to sit, commanding her instead to clean. Later, the maid presents herself in front of her mistress who is busily typing but pauses to tell her that she hasn't finished everything, there is still her underwear to wash by hand. This sequence ends in a way that disspells all notion of employment agreements and soon proves a ritual. The body of this film examines that ritual, the agreement at its centre and the effects upon it and the women of change and stress.

Writer/director Peter Strickland who gave us the extraordinary Berberian Sound Studio and (for the explorers among us) Katalin Varga now presents us with something we think we are going to comfortably predict. His devotion to the transgressive cinema or Europe's 1970s is delivered to us like a creamy Brandy Alexander in a vintage glass; as we clear the enigmatic lingering tableau and the unctuous Rome 72 song whispers and gleams we are treated to a series of beautiful motion into freeze frame and collage images that hint at what is to come. Even the font used for this credit sequence makes us feel warm and loved.

But Strickland is not a Tarrantino. His retrospective eye is less attracted to the cuteness of the past than its continued powerful utility. The look and feel of 70s Eurosploitation is strong and flavoursome but it also calls attention to what we are seeing without more distraction than this comfort will allow. Even the fact that the whole town seems populated by intense female entomologists, suggests a heightened level of control (it's also intentionally funny). Neither the lesbianism nor the bondage and discipline are offered to titilate or alienate. We are here to watch what happens in a closed system in much the same way that its characters observe their insects on slides and in display cases.

But if that were the sole point of this piece it would rapidly lose its puff. There is far more here being said about intimacy and boundary. This aligns it far more strongly with the severity of Persona, the spookiness of Three Women or the hard verbal pugilism of Butley than the playful confrontation of Vampyros Lesbos or Lizard in a Woman's Skin. We follow these women because their story compels us, even as it seems to be composed almost entirely of a single routine. At the final shot you will already feel the resonance and it will follow you home.

Katalin Varga gave us a revenge film that focused on the act's quandries rather than acknowledged them by regulation. Berberian Sound Studio invited us in to a man's complete absorption into something that disgusted him. The Duke of Burgundy shows a filmmaker whose strengths transcend his aesthetic festishes to allow him to make such things that both give succour and unsettle. Strickland's retro stylings aren't like Tarrantinos. Where QT comes on like a tribute band, Strickland is more like someone who loves old Merseybeat bands but floods it in electronica because it feels better that way. Strickland, the musician, has commissioned a beautiful score that while eclectic also feels bespoke. I'll be Googling Cat's Eyes after I sign off on this review. Yum!

Next, please, Mr S.

No comments:

Post a Comment