Here’s my 5.11 Cannes Film Festival review of Julia Leigh‘s Sleeping Beauty, which opens tomorrow (12.2): “SB is basically a highly refined, carefully poised erotic mood piece with oodles and oodles of milky nudity. I only know that all through it I was saying, ‘This thing is candy for guys like LexG…a bag of Halloween candy. But that’s not what you’re supposed to think.'”
Emily Browning‘s Lucy is a student who does this and that to make ends meet — high-end prostitution mostly, but she also holds down jobs at a copy shop and a bar/restaurant. And she goes to classes in-between. The film is more or less about Lucy being lost or zoned out in this oddly meandering, downswirl life. She’s not unhappy as much as numb.
I felt numb watching it. It’s obvious that Leigh knows how to deliver those Cannes Film Festival-tailored, high-end cinematic chops in a kind of…I don’t know, a late-Buneulian or Peter Greenaway sort of way. The movie is a class act but most of the time you’re trying to figure out what’s going on exactly. Stop allowing the violations, you’re telling Lucy all through it. But mostly you’re saying to Leigh, “Can this movie get off its arse and do something, please?”
Three or four times I raised my hands in exasperation, hoping that the screen or Leigh or Lucy or whomever/whatever would feel my plight and respond.
I was tempted to use the term “erotic horseshit” in the headline but that’s not really fair. You’d have to call Sleeping Beauty some kind of lost-in-space movie but — but! — it’s very nicely done for whatever that may be worth. Leigh and Browning definitely make you feel the angst and the agony of being used and stuck and flirting with drifting doom. This is a woman without a plan or a dream or anything, really, except for a kind of suppressed revulsion at the stuff she does.
The film does hold your interest because you’re constantly sensing that something is going to happen. And it does, but that “something” is the fact that Sleeping Beauty ends. And that is something.
And with her brave and memorable performance Browning has certainly balanced out the demerits she got for playing Babydoll in Zack Snyder‘s thoroughly contemptible Sucker Punch. Aaron Hillis just tweeted that the film could be called Fucker Punch — good one.
The film subjects you to the sight of three old naked guys getting all sick and pervy with Browning, and that, I can tell you, gets very old. Oh, no…here comes another geezer. Please don’t take your clothes off…oh, Jesus, he’s undressing…God. Please don’t show me another withered hairy dick.
But the best moment in the film comes when one of the old guys delivers a soliloquy about the agony of aging and withering and the falling apart of bones.
At least the film ends with a scream. Maybe Lucy has finally had enough, you’re thinking. Some in the audience shared that resolve, I suspect. I’m not sorry I saw Sleeping Beauty — I’m a better man for it, I think. But I’m not exactly delighted either. Leigh, a novelist, can certainly compose and frame and abbreviate and…well, direct in what anyone would call a highly oblique, dry-as-a-bone manner.