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New on Netflix: 'The Duke of Burgundy' is a sex film without sex

The quietly devastating "The Duke of Burgundy" now lives on Netflix Instant, as does the Sinatra classic "Some Came Running" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Duke of BurgundySome Came Running2001 A Space Odyssey

‘The Duke of Burgundy’
Mindf—k

Imagine (if you can) an elaborate, loving homage to ’70s Eurotrash erotica, like “Emmanuelle” and “The Lickerish Quartet.” Now imagine it without the good stuff, which is to say the sex and skin. And now imagine it not as a portrait of quickie love-making but as the opposite: a quietly devastating study of the difficulties of long-term relationships. The impossibly lush and hypnotic “The Duke of Burgundy” is all this and more — a handsome fever dream that follows two women in love. Chiara D’Anna plays a lepidopterology (the study of butterflies and moths, don’t-cha know) student who comes to study/play housekeeper to Sidse Babett Knudsen’s professor. They have a routine: the former shows up at the latter’s tony estate, is pushed around by her superior then inevitably falls into bed with her. Wash, rinse, slowly slide on your high-end duds, repeat.

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Only eventually do we realize this isn’t just another bout of softcore. Our shtuppers are, as it turns out, in a longterm relationship, and this submissive-dominatrix routine is all role-playing. In fact, only D’Anna’s character likes it; Knudsen’s just goes along with playing abuser, much to her discomfort, because that’s what her boo wants. Even ignoring the particulars “Burgundy” is still rapturous, lousy with lulling soft-focus photography, ornate furniture and roughly a gazillion shots of lovingly taxidermied insects. It even sports a screen credit for perfume — a sign that Peter Strickland, of the equally brilliant “Berberian Sound Studio,” is trying to appease all the senses, even those ignored by cinema, at least subliminally. Play it in Smell-O-Vision.

‘Some Came Running’
Sinatra film

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin made plenty of bro-ish films together, but this slow-burning Vincente Minnelli drama stands outside of them all. Sinatra is a vet who returns, after an absence prolonged by more than war, to his hometown, where his many, contradictory impulses get a working out. He falls for a nice schoolteacher (Martha Hyer), but he also can’t resist hanging with Martin’s gambler, or resisting the dim-witted floozy played heartbreakingly by Shirley Maclaine. This is all building to a phantasmagoric closer, but the pleasure is into the gradual build, made all the more magnetic by Minnelli’s careful cinemascope. Let it wash over you before it blows up.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
Kubrick film

You know what you shouldn’t do? Watch this pioneering eyesore on anything less than a giant screen in 70mm, the way God (or Stanley Kubrick) intended.) You know what you almost certainly can’t do, unless you live in one of America’s biggest cities, and then only once or so a year? Watch “2001” in 70mm. So long as you block out your windows, kill your gizmos and rev up your biggest screen, feel free to take it in, and marvel not only at its mood and, well, spaciness, but at the way it offers a truly posthuman look at civilization, where the people are often ignored by Kubrick's roaming cameras, partly because they aren’t as charismatic as the computer program that’s simply an all-seeing, crimson-red eye. Just don’t watch it on your smart-watch.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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