liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
[personal profile] liv
Reason for watching it Several people, notably [personal profile] khalinche, had mentioned to me the existence of an arty Hungarian film about lesbian kink, and I was definitely intrigued by the concept.

Circumstances of watching it [personal profile] angelofthenorth had seen it in the cinema and wanted me to see it as well. We live in the future so we could buy and download the film from the internet and that was our evening's entertainment with basically no effort.

Verdict The Duke of Burgundy is a thoughtful character piece, and visually pretty.

The film almost doesn't have a plot, it just shows a bunch of scenes (and Scenes) between the two principals, interspersed with close-ups of insects and grubs (don't watch this film if you're bothered by insects). Their relationship certainly develops, but not according to the expected trajectory of meeting, falling in love, encountering problems and then resolving them. We meet them when their relationship is clearly an ongoing thing, and they have happier moments and worse moments, and there isn't really a resolution on the simplistic level of living happily ever after or splitting up. Meanwhile the world portrayed is sort of vaguely mid-twentieth century central Europe, and the colour palette is autumnal, and there are a lot of pretty old buildings and pretty costumes. There are absolutely no male characters whatsoever; the lovers occasionally interact with an older woman neighbour, once with a carpenter specializing in kink equipment, and several times attend meetings of an all-female entomology society and we get snippets of lectures on insect identification.

One thing I really enjoyed was the detailed characterization and exploring the lovers' emotions. Neither Knudsen as the dominant nor D'Anna as her submissive are what Hollywood usually thinks of as attractive, partly because they're somewhat older than many female leads but mainly because they have really expressive faces. That was a big thing for me; I'm so used to women portrayed as "beautiful" having doll-like faces and conveying their emotions with minimal facial movement, a single perfect tear or a teeth-hiding smile.

I did like the way that the film shows both the affection and the D/s dynamic between the two women. There is very little in the way of explicit sex, a bit of kissing, some arty blurry double exposure sequences of tangled limbs, and a partner masturbation scene which takes place under the covers and focuses entirely on the actors' faces. The physical aspects of punishment take place behind closed doors, and almost all the cinematography is about building emotional tension rather than putting breasts and bottoms on display for the viewer in the style that's much more typical of sex scenes in vanilla films.

The Duke of Burgundy addresses the kink trope that "the submissive has all the power". Initially we see Cynthia ordering Evelyn around and punishing her for imaginary lapses in following her orders. As the film progresses, we learn that Evelyn is masterminding most of their highly scripted scenes, and indeed often pressuring Cynthia to dominate her in ways that Cynthia isn't always completely comfortable with. Evelyn criticizes her dominant for not dressing up sexy enough (even when she's in pain with a bad back) or for not putting enough conviction into her role. It's interesting the way that this set-up plays with expectations, but I found it went a bit far sometimes; I often couldn't see what Cynthia as the dominant was getting out of the kink dynamic, and Evelyn's criticisms crossed the line into mean sometimes. On the other hand there's a scene where Cynthia completely ignores Evelyn's safeword, saying something like "if only we could all say a word to make our torments end". And perhaps I'm naive but that shocked me, and rather broke my belief in the relationship as one of affection expressed in a D/s context.

I've seen discussions of the MeFi emotional labour thread spinning off this description of sexual submission as abdicating from emotional labour. That's not my experience of submission at all; when I'm subbing I'm putting in a lot of emotional work. Sometimes on actual direct service of my dominant and thinking about their pleasure and so on, but also because I feel like I'm co-creating the scene, it's always a collaboration to decide how things should go and to sustain the emotional dynamic we're into. I don't expect my top to "hold the deal token" single-handed at all, even if they're making the specific decisions in the moment. And there's the whole thing of communicating what I'm enjoying, the edge between acceptable pain (I don't really do good pain, cos I'm not much of a masochist, but there's a certain amount of pain I can accept as part of submission) and too much, and so on, ideally without breaking role, so it's subtle indirect communication, which is effort for me as my most natural communication style is very direct.

Seeing Evelyn being such a very bossy and sometimes mean submissive in the film made me think, is that what I'm like as a submissive? I'm really not passive at all, probably less so in kink contexts than when I'm bottoming in more vanilla sex. In my view of the world sex, even with D/s elements, is supposed to be mutually enjoyable, that's the whole point. But I think in the end the conclusion is that I'm just kinky in a rather different way from the characters in the film, there's a whole range of things that come under the general heading of power exchange.

Caveat: I haven't seen this one.

Date: 2015-08-06 03:42 pm (UTC)
403: Green spider chrysanthemum. (Spider Chrysanthemum)
From: [personal profile] 403
I'm so used to women portrayed as "beautiful" having doll-like faces and conveying their emotions with minimal facial movement...
...I often couldn't see what Cynthia as the dominant was getting out of the kink dynamic...


I suspect these two things might go together. If the actresses have even normally mobile faces, one expects to see certain expressions of enthusiasm during Scenes. On the other hand, if Knudsen isn't personally into what her role as Cynthia calls for, the lack of enjoyment is going to show. Much like some productions that cast gay male actors in straight male roles, where their time on screen with a female partner is jarring because you can see that the actor isn't into her. But most media is made for the straight gaze, or perhaps here, the vanilla gaze, so it's not smoothed over by editing or tweaking stage directions.

I may be totally off base here, but it's a thought.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-06 10:13 pm (UTC)
rushthatspeaks: (feferi: do something adorable)
From: [personal profile] rushthatspeaks
For me, the scene in which Cynthia doesn't honor the safeword worked in the context of a basically salvageable relationship, because the two of them clearly don't have the idea that the dominant should also have a safeword. Evelyn has been shoving at Cynthia's boundaries for some time in a way where, if Cynthia had a safeword, she would clearly have used it. Then when Cynthia realizes that, in fact, she ought to have a safeword, she does exactly the same kind of scene in which Evelyn has been pushing her boundaries, but in reverse-- something that won't physically hurt Evelyn, but which isn't her thing and is onerous, emotionally demanding, and entirely focused on someone else's needs. Exactly what Cynthia's been dealing with this entire time. Evelyn does have the option of getting up and walking away, and Cynthia wouldn't stop her, but that would probably spell the end of the relationship. The whole thing is a visceral demonstration to Evelyn of why Cynthia hasn't been able to tell her that things aren't working, and the manner and depth of the precise dysfunction.

It's after that scene that Evelyn starts to think about Cynthia's needs as well as her own-- that's not quite accurate, Evelyn has been taking Cynthia's needs and wants into account the whole time, but it's after that encounter that Evelyn realizes that Cynthia is unable to express her own needs and desires because of fear that doing so will end the relationship entirely, that their relationship is literally hostage to the power dynamic of Evelyn insisting on getting exactly what she wants.

Evelyn also strikes me as not having before experienced the difference between 'fantasies that are things you actually want to do' and 'fantasies that are things you should leave as fantasies'; she says flat-out that no one has ever been willing to go to these places with her before, and she goes, I think, a little nuts with the idea that she can do everything she's ever dreamed about. Their relationship is, I think, fairly new, as the amount of energy that Cynthia is putting into it would clearly be unsustainable for Cynthia in the longer term, and so what we see in the movie is the realization that both of them, despite this relationship being the center of their lives and an incredibly intense thing, still need to have some boundaries.

They aren't yet in a great place by the end of the film, but they're in a place that's moving towards both healthy and sustainable.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 01:57 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
...I totally need to see this now.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 01:54 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I haven't seen the movie, but yes, very much the top also needs to be able to stop the scene immediately and with no repercussions. Whatever is going on physically, both/all partners are real people with emotional needs and reactions; that someone else is in charge doesn't guarantee that nothing I do will accidentally hurt them.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 01:58 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
To what does the title refer, do you know?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-09 11:08 pm (UTC)
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rushthatspeaks
It's the name of a moth. Both women are entomologists, specializing in moths.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-10 01:31 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Ah!

So why is the movie named after that specific moth?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 05:48 am (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
May have to take a look at this movie.

Kinky relationships, especially of the D/s variety, always seem a bit odd to me to be able to depict well and fully, because there's what you see, visually, and then there's what you would see if you were fully clued into the relationship and is dynamics, including words and phrases and mental states. It almost seems life of would be difficult to express all of that through script and camera work.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-10 11:27 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
That sounds like a good endorsement of the movie as well.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-07 05:06 pm (UTC)
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
Hm. I wouldn't describe sexual submission as abdicating from emotional labor, but I have Thoughts now about how 24/7 submission is . . . not so much abdicating from emotional labor, still, but making the distribution of emotional labor more obvious and deliberate? Which may explain part of why I find all the emotional labor discussions interesting but very disconnected from my own life. Things to ponder.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-08-08 11:28 pm (UTC)
switterbeet: (floating island)
From: [personal profile] switterbeet
Interesting... I think I will add this to The List. :) The entomology aspect is also an intriguing theme .

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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