Sleeping Beauty (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner14/10/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Intriguing, disturbing and featuring a mesmerising central performance from Emily Browning, this is a beautifully shot and stylishly directed drama with echoes of both Belle de Jour and Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence.

What's it all about?
Directed by novelist-turned-filmmaker Julia Leigh and produced by Jane Campion, Sleeping Beauty is set in present-day Australia and stars Emily Browning as Lucy, a strapped-for-cash college student who takes on a number of part-time jobs, including scientific test subject, office temp, waitress and apparently prostitute. When she answers an ad for silver service waitressing (which turns out to involve being decoratively naked at upper class dinner parties), Lucy meets Clara (Rachael Blake), who offers her a lucrative job whereby she's drugged unconscious so that a variety of male clients can spend the night with her, penetration forbidden.

With the extra money, Lucy moves out of her hideous student flat-share and into a luxury apartment, but she becomes increasingly curious as to just what her male clients are up to while she sleeps. Meanwhile, Lucy's only social life outside of work involves spending time with her troubled friend Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), an addict who's become a recluse and who seems to be the only person with whom she can really be herself.

The Good
Emily Browning delivers a mesmerising performance as Lucy that single-handedly atones for the atrocity that was Sucker Punch. The film centres on Lucy being a passive, blank-faced and beautiful woman onto whom men can project their – as it turns out, rather pathetic – desires, though it's fair to say that, in much the same way, the enigmatic script resists explanation and allows the audience to see whatever they want to see in the film (it's the sort of film where if you listen carefully you can already hear university papers being written about it).

Leigh directs with a strongly formal style, using a static camera and lots of medium-shots (largely resisting close-ups), not to mention minimal dialogue. There are also strong echoes of both Bunuel's classic Belle de Jour (blank-faced and passive prostitute serving as an erotic conduit for male desire) and Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence (young girls under-going mysterious rituals that are never quite explained), both presumably significant influences on the film.

The Great
The film isn't exactly without humour (Lucy's interactions with her horrible house-mates are amusingly familiar) and there are some powerfully memorable scenes, some shocking, some erotic, some moving and some repulsive (you may want to look away when one of her clients starts licking her face).

Worth seeing?
Stylishly directed and featuring a stunning central performance from Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty is an intriguing and disturbing drama that's unlike anything else you'll see this year and marks director Julia Leigh out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

Sleeping Beauty (18)
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Content updated: 15/12/2017 08:29

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