Lesbian S&M film The Duke of Burgundy could be about any relationship, says its Stoke Newington star

PUBLISHED: 12:29 19 February 2015 | UPDATED: 15:32 19 February 2015

Chiara D'Anna in The Duke of Burgundy

Chiara D'Anna in The Duke of Burgundy


Chiara D’Anna talks to Alex Bellotti about working with Peter Strickland, the reality of filming sex scenes and ‘human toilets’.

With Fifty Shades of Grey currently spanking its way through every cinema in the Western world, Hollywood is clearly in the mood for a bit of S&M. As director Peter Strickland’s newest film is out to prove however, there is more to explore about the subculture than just its appeal to randy housewives.

The Duke of Burgundy stars Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen as experimental lovers in a surreal, ambiguously European fantasy world where no men exist. Stylistically indebted to the ‘70s softcore films of Jess Franco, it brings up such notions as a mattress which allows one lover to sleep suffocated under 
the other and a device referred to as a ‘human toilet’.

For all its x-rated escapades though, Stoke Newington resident D’Anna insists it’s really just a love story.

“What I think – and I think Peter would say the same – is that the film is not in reality exploring an S&M relationship, it’s talking about every relationship,” the 32 year old says. “It just happens that these two women – well especially my character, Evelyn – has particular needs.

“The film uses that situation to examine any difficulty in a relationship, of coming to terms with the fact that ‘I need something but my partner is unable or unwilling to give that because it would create pain of some kind’. That could be in any relationship – it could be going on Sunday to lunch with your mother in law.”

The movie is out tomorrow (Friday) and to celebrate its release, D’Anna will be joining Strickland at the Hackney Picturehouse for a screening and Q&A session.

Impressively, this is only the Italian actress’s second film role and her first lead part, having worked with Strickland previously on 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio. The British director is “very down to earth and gives a lot of freedom,” D’Anna says, which certainly helped when filming some of the movie’s more risqué scenes.

“The funny thing is that for me those scenes were bizarrely the easiest. They look sensual on camera, but in reality they’re the most technical in the sense that all you’ve got is a specific light and you move around each other, but it’s more like a dance in terms of the choreography.”

There is an underlying irony to the film’s rudest moments and it’s one that both actresses had to take care to play right. “The specific one of the human toilet is very funny because of the situation,” D’Anna adds, “but it’s also very tragic in the sense that this is when my partner understands there is no way she can meet my needs.”

While The Duke of Burgundy is bound to pick up headlines for its unusual depiction of a lesbian relationship, its star suggests that beneath it all, gender doesn’t actually enter the equation.

“In a sense it’s not a lesbian relationship, because this world doesn’t have men. That was a way to get away from the gender element and Peter talked extensively about it. If you had a heterosexual relationship, you’d immediately have the power game between men and women, which is a bit difficult as the men are often stereotypically seen as the more powerful. If it was two men, it would immediately be more typecast as a gay film and only for a smaller circuit.

“I think it just puts a magnifying lens on any problem of manipulation in a loving relationship, because we’ve all been either manipulated or the manipulator – at some point, it shifts, but we’ve all had experience of that.”

The Duke of Burgundy is out tomorrow, when it will be shown at Hackney Picturehouse before a Q&A. Turn to page 6 for our review.


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