Butterflies are not so free

A few years ago, I heard an interview with the actor Toby Jones about a film he was in, called Berberian Sound Studio. On the strength of that interview, and the subsequent review by Mark Kermode I bought the Blu Ray and have since tried on two occasions to watch it, both times failing to get through the running time.

I am not exactly sure why. Both times I seem to remember pausing the film to do something else and then not going back, or being interrupted. It was not because I disliked the film, more that  I got distracted.

Following this film, which I failed so far failed to see, the writer and director, Peter Strickland produced another film, The Duke of Burgundy. I had heard very, very good reviews about this film but had resisted renting it because of its content. It was a 99c movie recently though, so in keeping with my policy of using this weekly opportunity to broaden my movie knowledge (as long as it was not horror), I hit ‘rent.’

I watched the film today. The set up is both quite distinctive and quite vague. It is set in Europe but the period and exact country is not made clear, although they all speak English. The story revolves around the relationship between two women, Cynthia and Evelyn who enact daily rituals exploring dominance and submission. Both are members of an apparently all female group of insect enthusiasts who attend very specific lectures on niche subjects. It is from this that the film gets its title, after the name of a butterfly, rows of which are housed in frames in Cynthia’s study.

I do not have a huge knowledge of 70s euro – erotic cinema, so I will just believe those who are more cine-literate than I am who say that the film pays homage to a number of works from this genre. The film explores ideas of eroticism without actually being super erotic in itself, and it is suggestive rather than explicit in the depiction of the relationship between the women.

The film is a study in ritual: when ritual is used as a vehicle to erotic fulfilment while ironically becoming through repetition part of the mundanity of being with the same person. How many times can you pin a butterfly to a board?

It is very much its own film, beautifully filmed but distinctively odd. I thought I was going to need to brace myself for a film that was voyeuristic and titilating. I could not have been more wrong.

This film will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I think it would be easier to watch on a cold winter evening, rather than a hot summer afternoon, but although I am unlikely to watch it again in the near future, I am glad I watched it.

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