June 11, 2011

Sleeping Beauty wows Cannes and Sydney Film Festival, by Eva Rinaldi - 10th June 2011

A beautifully titled and rather controversial film, Sleeping Beauty was always going to be on everyone's lips.

Australian writer-director Julia Leigh's debut feature Sleeping Beauty has, as forecast, divided both audiences and critics at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and now more division here in Sydney.

Some press called it tedious and pretentious, but more other writers including Manohla Dargis from the New York Times and Slate's Stephanie Zacharek praised Leigh's graphic erotic drama as a bold, challenging work.

Sleeping Beauty is about struggling Sydney university student Lucy (Emily Browning) who joins a high-class prostitution outfit where she agrees to be put to sleep and allow dirty old, filthy rich men to have their every which way with her.

David Rooney, in The Hollywood Reporter, dismissed the film as "psychosexual twaddle" and told us that the experience of watching Browning go to sleep matched his own response to the film.

"The film's exploration of submission, violation, objectification and depersonalisation is treated with the utmost solemnity, its sterile surfaces undisturbed by even a ripple of humour," he wrote.

Dargis advised that Sleeping Beauty did not deserve the desultory clapping and assorted boos it received at its screening at Cannes, describing it as an "accomplished feature debut".

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw loved Sleeping Beauty, describing it as "technically elegant" and a beautifully controlled work in the tradition of Luis Bunuel and Michael Haneke.

"Emily Browning gives a fierce and powerful performance, which should put her in the running for the festival's best actress prize," Bradshaw said.

He indicated that Leigh, like her mentor, Jane Campion, would be a filmmaker who took some time to be discovered after an initial wave of revulsion at her work.

Sleeping Beauty was the virgin film screened of the 20 in competition for the festival's Golden Palm, to be awarded on tomorrow by a jury chaired by actor and director Robert De Niro.

His fellow judges include actors Uma Thurman and Jude Law.

Sleeping Beauty is also eligible for the Camera d'Or for a first feature which has been won by Aussies for the past two years.

Last year, expat Michael Rowe won with Leap Year, a tough psychosexual drama shot in his adopted country of Mexico.

Sleeping Beauty is expected to draw big crowds in Australia and also attract strong DVD sales and rentals.

Not a film to attend on a first date, but maybe for your second or third, if you really want to probe your friends mind. This will be one to have in your private DVD collection if you want to stimulate conversation and one or two other senses, just before sleeping time.


Sydney Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival

Eva Rinaldi Photography

Eva Rinaldi Flickr