UW Reel Love LGBT Film Fest, Day 3: “The Duke of Burgundy,” “Pride,” “Stranger by the Lake”

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The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.

The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, but is otherwise another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.

Each day during the festival, I’ll feature a new review of one of the films playing that day, along with capsules of the others and links to my previous reviews where available. For a full schedule, visit wudfilm.com. And, once again, it’s FREE, people!

The Duke of Burgundy” (9:15 p.m. Saturday, Union South Marquee) — There are a lot more than fifty shades of grey in play in Peter Strickland’s complex, chilling and undeniably erotic depiction of an S&M relationship between two women.

In the opening scene, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) arrives at the English manor of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an imperious lepidopterist who keeps hundreds of butterflies pinned to the walls of the mansion. As Evelyn dutifully scrubs the floor and hand-washes Cynthia’s underthings, Cynthia coldly criticizes and taunts her. When Evelyn makes one tiny slip, Cynthia takes her behind closed doors for “punishment.”

It sounds like some sort of crude erotic fantasy — and it is. We learn that this is a scenario that Cynthia and Evelyn play out over and over, at Evelyn’s direction. She even has a script for Cynthia to follow, and gives her critiques on her performance (“Try to have more conviction in your voice next time.”) Suddenly, the power that we perceive in the relationship has shifted.

While Cynthia yearns for a more conventional sort of love affair, Evelyn keeps purhing their arrangement into darker territories. Like those butterflies on the wall, each are trapped by their own differing ideas of what love and desire should mean. They may come to some kind of detente, or they may destroy each other in their struggle for control.

There’s no nudity in “The Duke of Burgundy,” yet we feel like voyeurs watching the intimate sexual desires of these women played out on screen. Strickland makes the film an homage to ’70s European art cinema, suffusing the screen with soft-focus double exposures, sudden cutaways to shots of butterflies and moths, and hallucinogenic dream sequences set to an ominous harpsichord-and-choir score. It’s a bewitching experience.

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52 Tuesdays” (1:30 p.m. Saturday) — A teenage girl struggles to understand her own identity as her mother goes through a gender transition in this acclaimed Australian drama, getting its Madison premiere.

El Casamiento (The Marriage)” (4:30 p.m. Saturday) — This affecting Uruguayan documentary follows the marriage preparations of a longtime couple, transsexual Julia and construction worker Ignacio, finally tying the knot after 20 years together. Director Aldo Garay will take part in a Q&A via Skype following the screening.

Pride” (6:45 p.m. Saturday) — Striking British miners in the 1980s find an unlikely ally — gay rights activists also upset with the Thatcher government — in this rousing drama starring Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton. This film is out on DVD and interestingly — and shamefully — the box description makes no mention at all of the film’s gay themes, even Photoshopping out gay rights slogans from protest signs in the cover photo.

Stranger By The Lake” (11:30 p.m. Saturday) — My full review is here. Hitchcock goes cruising in this unsettling French drama, as a young gay man vacations at a secluded beach known for being a pickup spot, and thinks he may have witnessed a murder.

 

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