[SLEEPING BEAUTY screens Friday March 2nd at 7:30 pm and Saturday March 3rd at 9:00 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
Although not completely devoid of erotic heat, for the most part SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011) is a cold and distant movie about a cold and distant woman. Lucy (Emily Browing) is a blank cypher as the movie begins, and by the end we still really don't have much of an idea about who she is or what motivates her. All we know is that Lucy is a college student who works several menial jobs (laboratory test subject, bar maid, and some kind of office job). She also manages to have a fairly active night life involving casual sex and drug use.
Despite all her jobs, Lucy is still short of cash to pay the rent. So she finds one more job, this one as a sort of erotic dinner hostess for kinky old guys. Her boss is the statuesque Clara (Rachael Blake), who promises Lucy a hefty sum but no guarantee of long term employment. Lucy will have to dress revealingly and perform her duties with class and subservience, but will not have to have sex with any of her clients. Clara makes good on her promises including the pay, but after taking out enough money to cover her bills Lucy burns the rest. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
After proving herself, Lucy is offered another job. She will be drugged unconscious and placed naked in a bed. The kinky old guys will get into bed with her and do just about anything they want short of sexual intercourse. Lucy takes on the new assignment, but again I'm not really clear why. She doesn't see, to care about the money, nor does it seem to be any kind of personal fantasy of hers. If there is some trauma from her past or other personal issues that can explain Lucy's behavior, the film never makes it clear. Most likely its part of some symbolism the director is going for, but either everything is way too vague or I just wasn't sharp enough to pick up on it.
As inscrutable as writer/director Julia Leigh's film may be, it's not without its merits. The sexual tableaus she arranges for the camera are well staged, reminding me of the arthouse erotica of seventies auteur Walerian Borowczyk, or a less repulsive take on Passolini's SALO. As in last year's fanboy fiasco SUCKER PUNCH, Browning shows she's willing and able to give a strong performance even in sub-par material. It's also interesting, and probably of some significance, that all the other women in the film are considerably taller than the star, making Browning appear even more childlike and submissive. It's a well made, good looking, and well acted film; I'm just not sure what end it's meant to serve. 2 out of 4 stars.