Julia Leigh's modern retelling of the classic fairy tale falls short of its feminist ideals
You could easily mistake Sleeping Beauty for a piece of male wish fulfilment. Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s first film as a writer and director may purport to be a feminist re-interpretation of traditional fairytale elements but the submissive, scantily-clad female flesh and perverse desires of elderly gentlemen clients place it closer to the soft porn of Tinto Brass than the social satire of a Luis Buñuel.
Leigh’s debut arrives with the endorsement of Jane Campion and does reveal an exacting, bracingly dispassionate aesthetic. Leigh attempts to spellbind us with long takes and lingering silences but there is a fine line between the hypnotic and the tedious, between a journey into the mysteries of human sexuality and merely preposterous provocation.
Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, The Uninvited) stars as Lucy – a sullen, blank-faced young woman who seems to be sleepwalking through life. She is hired by Clara (Rachael Blake) as a ‘silver service waitress’ required to meet the precise requirements of guests whilst wearing luxurious lingerie, and lipstick that colour co-ordinates with the tones of her labia. Her willingness to please and not ask questions leads Lucy to be hired for the sleeping chamber. She is now paid to be drugged and allow a succession of elderly gents to visit her with carte blanche to do anything they desire short of ‘penetration’. The audience is made voyeuristic witness to events of which Lucy has no knowledge.
Sleeping Beauty sustains a certain fascination but is often clumsy, pretentious and far from convincing. Lucy remains an enigma, and attempts to capture a wider sense of her life are among the film’s weakest elements. Leigh’s film is crafted with controlled precision but still leaves you wondering exactly what she was trying to say.
Selected release from Fri 14 Oct.