|Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie
|June 23, 2011
It is a great honour for any director to have their film selected for the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Roughly 20 movies are shortlisted each year and they are judged by a jury of high-profile actors and filmmakers. The winner takes the Festival’s most lucrative prize – the Palme d’Or (or Golden Palm).
Not since Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge has an Australian film been chosen as part of the official selection. The ten year drought was broken this year with Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty earning a starting spot in the line up. The achievement is even more impressive considering the film marks Leigh’s directorial debut. Those on the selection committee were clearly impressed.
Unfortunately, I was not. Sleeping Beauty is a tiring, emotionless experience. I can best describe it as a film that is “all style and no substance”. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could fault the beautiful set direction and the distinctive cinematography. The lack of dialogue and music will also keep your attention focused.
My problem with the movie is that I don’t know what it’s trying to say. It feels like it wants to be some kind of classy, plot-driven porno in the same vein as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen but that moment never presented itself. The closing credits started rolling, murmurs were heard from those around me and I left the cinema with a bewildered look on my face.
It centres on a young university student named Lucy (Browning) who is struggling to make ends meet. She accepts a job with a secretive escort agency that specialises in fulfilling people’s fetishes and fantasies. Lucy’s not quite sure what she’s got herself into but getting paid $250 an hour is an opportunity too attractive to pass up.
For her first assignment, Lucy turns up a lavish mansion, changes into revealing white lingerie and then serves drinks to a group of elderly, well-dressed men. As this goes on, other scantily clothed women walk around and sit on the floor for “decorative purposes”. It’s just the start of a series of very bizarre events.
What’s the point though? Is this supposed to open my eyes to a mysterious world that is kept from public view? Am I meant to feel sorry for this sweet, innocent girl and the way in which she has been corrupted? Should I be shocked and aroused by all the nudity? I don’t know the answer.
The strange plot and equally strange direction makes it hard to feel anything for these characters. There are only so many times I can watch Lucy photocopy papers in an office or clean tables in a café. Perhaps the most confusing element is her sick friend and the numerous times she visits his house.
I can remember a cinema owner once telling me that no matter how much I dislike a movie, there’s always someone out there who will like it. He’s right and I always try to reflect that in my reviews by identifying the target audience. I’m sorry but I’m not sure what to say in the case of Sleeping Beauty. As a critic, consider me both deflated and defeated.