Kubrick’s sense of sterile detachment has been tapped into quite a lot as of late. The most recent to try and replicate his signature style is Australian novelist and first time director Julia Leigh. Surprisingly, her directorial debut, Sleeping Beauty, shows her hand assured, confident, and oh so cold. The film played in the main competition at Cannes last year, but managed to split critics down the center as either an artfully crafted, mysterious character study, or a softcore exercise in poorly written pretension. Truth be told, it’s somewhere in between.
When working a variety of standard college student part-time jobs fails to bring in the cash she wants, Lucy (Emily Browning) mingles at bars until she convinces someone to pay her for her company. She eventually responds to an ad for another job, and is shortly interviewed for the position, but this one is much different. After being chauffeured to an enormous lavish estate, the matronly overseer informs her that her pay will be $250 an hour, and that there will be no penetration. Her job is to act as a scantily dressed servant at high class dinner parties. Her strawberry blond hair and fair skin is a striking contrast to her darker haired, bare-breasted co-workers. After a few successful events, she is promoted, and asked to take a strong sedative so that men can spend time with her unconscious body for ludicrous amounts of cash. Remember, no penetration, but also no knowledge of what happens to her slumbering body either. Lucy blindly goes along for the ride, but her curiosity eventually gets the best of her, and what she finds is unsurprisingly not to her liking.
Leigh’s tale gives us just the bare minimum to keep our interest piqued. Instead of fleshing out the character, Lucy remains an opaque mystery that we follow in hopes of understanding her recklessness and detachment. In many ways Lucy is similar to Viorel from Aurora; they both seem to live a somewhat normal life, but they secretly commit to unwholesome deeds in their spare time, but we aren’t given any back story that explains why. Unlike Aurora though, Sleeping Beauty makes sure to let its lead acknowledge her wrong doings in a series of minute instances of cause and effect. Lucy unwisely allows her education to be interrupted by her new place of employment; her emotional shield breaks down only in the presence of her friend Birdman; and in the film’s final seconds which won’t be spoiled here.
Though the film is incredibly hard to love thanks to its near complete lack of emotion, it is quite easy on the eyes. Leigh’s creation revels in the beauty of the naked human body, but it never feels overly sexualized. Browning and a variety of others are nude throughout a good portion of the film’s running time, but it is the work of Annie Beauchamp, Jocelyn Thomas, and Lisa Thompson, the production, art, and set designers, as well as cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, that make Sleeping Beauty a ravishing picture to behold.
IFC Films and MPI Home Video have come forth with yet another decent release this year. Though there is only but a trailer for extras to be found, the feature’s transfer looks really quite fine. The gorgeously chosen color palette is reproduced with respectable detail and vibrancy. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has some interestingly mixed moments, but for the most part it is dialog based. Conversations are crystal clear throughout.
This trailer is really an exquisite miniature portrayal of the film. It perfectly conveys the sense of foreboding dread that lingers throughout the film while giving the premise of it through a single monologue. All it lacks is the skin that’s so prevalent throughout the film.
As the writer/director of Sleeping Beauty, Julia Leigh has caught the eyes of film critics everywhere. Whether or not they had kind things to say about her debut, one can’t deny the assured craft behind the camera. There is a distinct, purposeful vision seen and felt throughout, but Leigh’s refusal to be factually charitable in the least ultimately hurt the picture. Her film may not be a narrative masterpiece, but it is a work of visual beauty and disturbing sensuality that surely proves Leigh is a new filmmaker to watch.
- Film Review
- Disc Review