Peter Strickland knows how to tease his audience. Drawing on the tropes of classic Italian ‘giallo’ pulp horror in Berberian Sound Studio, the British writer/director delivered a menacing trip into the interior mind as fact horrifyingly mixed with fiction in an aural nightmare. Far from Quentin Tarantino’s loving reappropriation, it blew the genre apart.
He’s at it again, mining eurotrash of a different sort in The Duke of Burgundy, a saucily suggestive romp packing lacy lingerie and the fetish fascinations of 70s S&M-tinged porn. A cinematic titillation, Strickland’s latest is as much about the complexities of emotional co-dependence as it is sexual tension. Though there’s plenty of the latter, bound with racy humour.
Starring Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen as an insect-obsessed mistress holed up in an oppressively decorous mansion, Berberian Sound Studio’s Chiara D’Anna plays her subservient lover and housemaid. The balance of power isn’t quite as clear cut as all that, however, nor is the aching eroticism as overtly blunt as the 70s source material.
With The Duke of Burgundy, Strickland has created a mesmerisingly sensual world populated solely by beguiling women and fluttering butterflies. The electricity that arcs between Knudsen and D’Anna is quite intoxicating.
In preparation for The Duke, get your voyeuristic tendencies all hot and bothered with eight of the most erotically charged movies at SBS On Demand.
A Dangerous Method (2011)
Following The Duke of Burgundy’s example that the key to what gets you off is all in the mind, David Cronenberg stepped away from the body horror in favour of his fascination for the cerebral with this coolly precise dissection of the birth of psychoanalysis.
The delectable Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung, fascinated by his half-wild subject Sabine, a career-high performance by Keira Knightley, whom he diagnoses as hysteric, applying the sexual-based theories of Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud.
The men approach Sabine’s case, and their work in general, from very different angles, leading to unavoidable friction as they play their territorial dance. All the while, Sabine forges her own successful career
Though the sexual elements in A Dangerous Method are restrained, there’s a spot of spanking, oodles of homoeroticism in the Freud/Jung face-off and a cheeky nod to the origins of the dildo.
House of Pleasures (2011)
Set in a decadent 1900s Parisian brothel in its dying days, Bertrand Bonello's House of Pleasures depicts the lives of a group of impeccably attired women who live to serve any man’s sexual fantasy without question, and are financially controlled by Noémie Lvovsky’s Madame, Marie-France.
Sharing an infectious camaraderie that helps to mitigate the boredom of going through the motions with their clients, the girls nonetheless are confronted with at times horrific violence and exposure to life-threatening diseases. Though there is glamour on show, Bonello does not glamourise this world.
When the latest young girl joins the coop, she says she chose this career to be free. “To be free? In a house of tolerance? Freedom’s outside, not here.”
The Apartment (1996)
Vincent Cassell, who also pops up in A Dangerous Method, is a regular appearance in psychosexual dramas, perhaps most memorably in writer/director Gilles Mimouni’serotically charged debut feature L'Appartement.
Cassell plays Max who, after a fleeting vision of former lover Lisa, played by the incomparable Monica Belluci, abandons his poor fiancé (Sandrine Kiberlain), hoping to reignite youthful desire. Rohmane Behringer’s Alice and Olivier Granier’s Daniel throw a Hitchcockian spanner in the works, with a dose of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream via Barbet Schroeder’s White Female for good measure.
The Night Porter (1974)
As far as the limit goes with erotic fantasises, they don’t come much more challenging than an affair between a Jewish concentration camp survivor and their Nazi SS officer and torturer. Where writer/director Liliana Cavani’s dark fantasy The Night Porter gets really twisted is that this isn’t some twisted role-play.
Charlotte Rampling’s holocaust survivor Lucia re-encounters Max (Dirk Bogarde), the punisher/protector with whom she had a sadomasochistic relationship while imprisoned. He’s hiding out in 1957 Vienna in a hotel as the night porter of the title. On dangerous ground, this will appal some, but there’s a strange fascination in observing such a wrong connection.
Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000)
The marriage of Berliner bad boy Rainier Werner Fassbinder’s enfant terrible sensibilities and French writer/director François Ozon’s vision for both alluring and disturbing set pieces is a match made in heaven, or perhaps hell.
Adapted from an unproduced stage play penned by the visionary German actor/writer/director lost too soon when Rainier was only 19, Ozon makes this queer take on the domestic sexual battleground his own.
Starring Bernard Giraudeau as a dapper old gent who seduces Malik Zidi’s naïve young bloke, it plays out entirely within the confining walls of a Berlin apartment. What starts off as a gay affair soon descends into long-term boredom before erupting again in an omnisexual smorgasbord as surprising choices are invited into the love nest.
101 Reykjavik (2000)
As love quadrangles go, they don’t come much odder than those depicted in actor turned director Baltasar Kormákur’s debut feature 101 Reykjavik (it’s a postcode, just like 90210, except far less desirable).
Hilmir Snaer Gudnason’s layabout bum Hlynur still lives with his mum (Hanna Maria Karlsdottir), but perplexingly ends up hooking up with her Spanish friend Lola (Victoria Abril) while she’s away. Here’s the rub, Lola is actually her lesbian lover. “Me and my mother have our fingers in the same pie,” Hlynur notes.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of his own much put-upon girlfriend Hofi, played by Thrudur Vilhjalmdottir. Funny and refreshingly forthright in its approach to sex, 101 Reykjavik is both chucklesome and hot.
Call Girl (2012)
Riding the Scandi-noir train, this sharply observed drama, drawn from a true-life scandal, sees a coupe of young juvenile detention residents, played by Sofia Karemyr and Josefin Asplund, fall into Stockholm’s seedy sex trade. Pernilla August is commanding as their madam, Dagmar Glans, pimping the girls out to shadowy establishment figures including cops, judges and politicians.
Packed with lurid 70s period detail gloriously shot by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Mikael Marcimain’s feature debut after tonnes of TV offers a stark look into the abuse of power for sexual gratification.