Sunday, November 27, 2011
MOVIE SLEEPING BEAUTY - JULIA LEIGH - 2011
Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is the first fully Australian film in competition since Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge in 2001. It’s a startlingly poised, modern-day fairy tale, a strange marriage of Jane Campion and Lars Von Trier that titillates, terrifies and haunts in equal measure. Emily Browning plays Lucy, a university student who takes up a job as a ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The work is very simple: she is driven to a rural mansion, sedated, stripped, and then given over to rich clients who can do (almost) anything they wish with her.
Let’s hope the hike in tuition fees doesn’t drive too many British undergraduates to this kind of employment. But Lucy is a strange fish; she has a dynamic passivity that leads her to sleep with overweight strangers on the toss of a coin; fond of a drink, she tends to a sickly friend called Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), who’s even more substance-dependent. Her decision to risk her life with strangers seems to be driven as much by curiosity and philosophical stance as it is by money.
Browning’s performance is utterly fearless, suffused with mystery, cold as ice. Leigh’s spare screenplay trusts the audience to fill in the imaginative spaces, and her framing is precise and economical. Fast-rising composer Ben Frost contributes a potent score. What a strange, ensnaring achievement, not least for a first-time feature, Sleeping Beauty is: no male director could have made it.