Thursday, 20 October 2011

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

Dir.: Julia Leigh
With: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake

I was quite surprised to learn that this psycho-erotic drama was written and directed by a woman. As far as I am aware, previous films that dealt with similar topics were directed by men like Luis Buñuel and Stanley Kubrick. I thought that a woman’s touch would mean that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was going to be an interesting exploration of sexual politics. Instead, what you get is a highly stylised work, which attempts to offer a fresh perspective on the psychology behind sexual perversion.

The child-like Emily Browning plays Lucy, a young university student who is struggling to make ends meet. She has several extremely dull part-time jobs and flatmates from hell. It is insinuated that she occasionally dabbles in prostitution. Her financial situation changes when she joins an exclusive escort service for wealthy elderly gentlemen with various interests, from bondage to necrophilia. Some of the scenes look like titillating Agent Provocateur photoshoots and it is certain that the film ends up glamourising fetishism. It offers an unforgiving look at the aged male body, especially when contrasted to Emily Browning's firm and smooth derriere. Also, she looked so young (could hardly walk in heels!) that I felt like a bit of a pedophile even watching her.

Lucy’s own history is unclear, she seems to have come from a troubled family, she does not have many friends and is generally isolated from society. At first she finds her new job rather absurd, however she slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what exactly goes on in this gentlemen’s club. Whilst I completely appreciate the difficulty of the emotional and physical stripping done by Ms Browning here, I cannot help but speculate about what made her think this was going to be a good role to try on. I felt that the character is underdeveloped and is almost impossible to relate to.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is both disturbing and tiresome to watch. The lack of a soundtrack means that much of the film is in complete silence. There are a number of very graphic scenes that are designed to shock but the main message of the film is indistinct. It does poke fun at the older, more powerful men for using young women for personal retribution; however, the plot development fails to satisfy. The protagonist remains shrouded in mystery and her detachment from the real world makes it hard to take it all seriously. The film leaves you with an aftertaste from all the creepiness in it but fails to really shake things up. When you compare 'Sleeping Beauty' to Buñuel's 'Belle de Jour', the latter is a by far more enticing and memorable work even with less flesh on display.

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