Sleeping Beauty has caused a silent divide in cinema since its Cannes viewing; some calling it beautiful, rich and mesmerizing, whilst others referring to it as trashy and opaque. However, for all the division it has caused everyone has their opinions on it. I, however, even as I’m writing this review am not fully aware of what to think of it. I believe in the genre of sexual politics it’s not as impressive as it would like to believe it is. However, in terms of sheer quality, class and haunting film making Sleeping Beauty is clearly a front runner.
Sleeping Beauty follows Lucy, a stony, silent, University student who’s lured into a world of high end prostitution in order to create the funds necessarery to pay off her University debt. However, we see a balance between Lucy’s social life and the friends around her and her ‘work’ life.
For me, the main weakness of Sleeping Beauty was its inability to allow you into the experience. Sleeping Beauty always keeps its distance, far enough to be seen but not close enough for the audience to submerge themselves into it. I found it hard to relate or even understand ‘Lucy’ because some of her actions are so erratic and unexplained, she goes from one extreme to the other in the matter of minutes. She’s a complex character with very little human characteristics. It’s like the film doesn’t want you participate with it; just watch it. However, Emily Browning’s portrayal as ‘Lucy’ was Kristen Dunst’s main competition at Cannes and to say which one deserved it more is difficult. Browning sheds the more tedious moments of Dunst’s performance and distills it into its purest essence; but sometimes she feels undeveloped as a character, not enough is known about her to understand the sexual suffering she inflicts on herself. However, Browning’s performance is nothing short of haunting and has been playing on my mind since I left the cinema early Friday afternoon.
Julia Leigh’s eye for the beautiful really allows Sleeping Beauty to flourish. Shots are framed with such miraculous attention to detail I’m sure that if you watched it over and over again there would be something new each time. However, the main cause of controversy over this film is its unflinching levels of sexuality. Browning is naked or nude for quite a high percentage of the film and no part of the human anatomy (male or female) goes left undiscovered. I would certainly say that Leigh’s sexual direction feels less dirty and more artistic in its nature, there are some quite beautiful moments where Leigh has explored and celebrated sexuality without ever being too crude. In terms of cinematic style Julia Leigh has executed Sleeping Beauty with such precise attention to detail, something so rare in films today.
Voyeuristic would be the only word to describe the Sleeping Beauty experience. Sleeping Beauty is intimate yet clumsy and bold yet unnecessary. Despite its fundamental flaws there’s something I can’t put my finger on about it. There’s something so brilliant about that seems to be lingering somewhere and only rarely makes an appearance. It never wants you to understand it and it most certainly never wants to let you in, in order to understand it. A difficult viewing but a recommended one, even if it is only to just form an opinion on it.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (October ’11)
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