For Critic’s Notebook I watched Stephen Daldry’s Trash, which nestles comfortably enough between superficial romanticism and YA earnestness to lose most of its bite. But complaining that Richard Curtis is not Victor Hugo seems an odd bone to pick.
Rubbish is also involved in White God, a film whose subtleties may be lost in translation; or absent. Perhaps the set of swarthy numskulls who queue up to abuse, mistreat and condemn lovable old Hagen are variegated in ways that work as local Hungarian satire but don’t travel well. If not, the film’s thrust at generic bias and disdain flames out in mid-air somewhere around the point where the director takes a knock on the head and decides to take aim at John Carpenter. Straight-faced cuts to menacing silhouettes of mutts advancing slowly on the next hapless pedigree chum do something of a disservice to the subtler stuff about Zsófia Psotta’s alienated youth and troubled relationship with her father, and the allegorical potential of mongrels being a source of tax revenue. But subtlety is out for the duration long before Psotta inexplicably packs her trumpet when leaving for a confrontation with the rampaging results of her country’s social evils, just in case she runs into someone who might fancy a tune.
The Duke of Burgundy is higher and more incisive trash altogether. I don’t recall laughing much during Berberian Sound Studio, beyond a bemused hurumph at the sight of Toby Jones going round the twist surrounded by stern brunettes of a certain type; so Duke Of Burgundy clarifies first and foremost the existence of Peter Strickland’s funny bone. In fact the humour is roughly five times more blatant than expected and ten times more deadpan, including the sight of a character inaudibly describing something disreputable with gestures that could at any moment become the bras d’honneur. The press notes find Strickland making an oblique reference to The Two Ronnies, which probably clarifies much. A Brakhage-ian moth-based hallucination is signaled by a glacial zoom into Sise Babett Knudsen’s hosiered groin – wander into any such territory and discover that David Lynch mapped it before anyone else even thought to take a look – but what the film does most audaciously is turn into a near-perfect film of observed human relationships on terra firma. The one between Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna encompasses a growing radius of quotidian frustrations, waspish comments, revealing body language and misunderstandings that are without exception wincingly accurate, even when delivered by a trussed submissive from within a locked trunk. How sweet an authorial touch that the notional dom gets stricken with a bad back and develops a preference for comfy pajamas. Duke of Burgundy deals with a lesbian relationship based around kink on a planet where that may be the only game in town, depicting in the process many concrete truths about human beings on other paths entirely.