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Cannes 2011: 'Sleeping Beauty' has a disquieting effect on festival crowds

May 12, 2011 |  6:14 am


Even before it was announced as a title in the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious competition section, "Sleeping Beauty" was gaining buzz for its slyly shocking trailer. In the spot, which portrayed a young middle-class woman voluntarily becoming a kinds of upscale geisha for middle-aged men, there was a coldness, but also a subversive sex appeal. We'd seen movies about young women in compromised sexual situations before, but rarely with this much ambiguity about their victimhood.

Julia Leigh's Australian film, which does not yet have U.S. distribution, had other intriguing elements. It was directed by a novelist ("The Hunter") making her cinematic debut. It had the guidance and imprimatur of "The Piano" director Jane Campion, who presented it. And it starred Emily Browning, who was seen engaging a different form of exploitation in this spring's "Sucker Punch."

When "Sleeping Beauty" finally made its debut to the media Wednesday night, though, it divided the audience. The carefully paced film, which follows a 20-ish woman (Browning) with either no agency whatsoever or a very radical form of it, had some taken with Leigh's austere vision and Browning's minimalism. But a lot more of the crowd seemed put off by those qualities. And while the so-called "erotic fairy tale" didn't ignite a full-blown controversy, the screening did raise eyebrows with its matter-of-fact submissiveness practiced by Browning's Lucy as she bedded down with her clients.

At a news conference Thursday, the filmmakers acknowledged they were attempting to needle. "I guess I am trying to get under people's skin in a way," Leigh said. "I like films that don't go in one ear and out the other."

In a moment that did hark back to "Sucker Punch" and its thin line between victim and perpetrator, Browning said she was trying to craft a new kind of kind of anti-heroine, one who's neither pitied nor glorified. "She physically looks innocent, but she's very aware," Browning said of her character. "I don't see her as a victim in any way. There's something perverse about her ... letting things happen to her."

With its title, its dreamlike moments and a madam whose personality wouldn't be out of place in a Grimm Brothers tale, Leigh's movie also has a fairy-tale quality, continuing a theme that has transfixed Hollywood lately. For her part, Leigh was not shy about mentioning her influences, which she said include King Solomon (like the characters in the film, she said, he had young women keep him warm in his old age), Gandhi (he tested his chastity by doing same) and "the shady world of the Internet" and its escort services.

But Leigh also said she was trying to make a point about the complexity of an early stage of adulthood. "I think we diminish youth [we say] 'they're young; they'll get over it,'" she said. "But I have a huge amount of respect for that passage of life. It's a lot harder than we give it credence."


Cannes 2011: On festival's streets, a kind of high-low cinematic tourism

Cannes 2011: Festival fetes Woody Allen and Midnight in Paris

Cannes 2011: The Artist paints a surreal picture

-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France


Photo: "Sleeping Beauty." Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Comments () | Archives (9)

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If the trailer was designed to entice and arouse interest then it succeeded with me - I would go and see this film, definitely.

And the spiral into depravity continues.

It was King David who had the girl to keep him warm, not Solomon.

In a world going beserk, someone - or almost everyone - seems to be sleeping and blaming the wolf...This world cannot take gender issues anylonger: it has gone to the point that many poeple now understand why Islam is going to take over - a sleeping - world. Unfortunately ( blame it all on artsy or not - blaming...).

I love how ambiguity in film is considered something worth talking about, like it's new. I also love how a movie trailer that capitalizes on sexual fetishism and prostitution is considered fresh and groundbreaking and exciting. It's just math. (Sex sells). Now that we've trained our intellectual women to embrace a pop culture form of lesbianism, it's good to see that breaking the taboo against prostitution is next. That's my kind of feminism: woo-hoo!

Wow a children's fairy tale into a movie... the trailer moved me.. I enjoyed it when I was young, but if this really comes out on the movies I would definitely watch a different intensity of this..

I don’t remember Emily’s character being “sexually abused,” which seems to be one of Lisa’s main complaints with SuckerPunch. There was almost an altercation at the end of the movie, but that was it, right? Did I forget something?

A geisha is a highly skilled artist, dancer or musician in Japan. They train all of their lives to excel in the traditional Japanese arts, never marry, and manage their own lives. In exactly what sense is the woman in this movie a geisha? You should offer an apology to the geisha in Japan.

The King of ancient Israel that was given a young woman for 'heat', was King David, not Solomon. Her name is given in the Bible as Abishag.

"Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat."

"So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not." (1 Kings 1:3-4 KJV)


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