Director: Julia Leigh
Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake
Duration: 102 min.
A haunting portrait of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires.
Sleeping Beauty is the debut feature film from Australian director Julia Leigh. It premiered in competition to a mixed reception at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Far from the Disney princess evoked by its title, the sleeping beauty in this case is Lucy (Emily Browning), an university student who toils away at several part time jobs to make ends meet, waitressing in a pub, photocopying in an office, volunteering in a lab as a guinea pig, and still failing to make the rent. Until she answers a strange ad in the student paper and enters a bizarre arrangement where she is paid handsomely to be drugged to sleep with no awareness of what happens to her.
Aesthetically this film is a visual marvel, every scene is carefully framed, expertly decorated, and filmed entirely with a wide or medium shot from a camera that almost never moves. Giving a genuinely beautiful but cold, clinical and detached mood that mirrors the demeanor of the always on screen but seldom present Lucy. She is wonderfully portrayed by the stunning Emily Browning who commands our attention with a performance of natural grace and of subdued expressions. Ever so diminutive and fair skinned she looks deceivingly like a fragile porcelain doll, but acts like she's indestructible, bravely participating in a series of reckless and self destructive pursuits.
Leigh's screenplay however is a frustrating one, curiously showing us too much and not enough at the same time. Lucy is a complete mystery to us, but what happens to her is on full display. We are privy to long uninterrupted takes of creepy old men doing disturbing things to Lucy's naked and unconscious body, but barely any hint of what is going through her mind or why she is compelled to do what she does. It would have been much more powerful and effective the other way around, here the audience is kept at too far a distance and left to fill out the wrong missing pieces.
Overall this is still an impressive debut from an author turned director who clearly has some interesting things to say. Hopefully she can work out a more compelling way to communicate those ideas on screen. Well even more compelling than a nude Emily Browning.
— Bonjour Tristesse