on November 4, 2011
Emily Browning stars as a detached, reckless young woman who takes a job as a sex worker - although no actual sex is allowed. Instead, she is put to sleep, and clients pay to do things to her while she sleeps. To her, her body is just a thing to be used. But how different is it from being an office drone, making copies all day or busing the same tables every night? Eventually, however, she can't help but be curious about what goes on while she's asleep....
Emily Browning is terrific in this film. She was nice to look at in Sucker Punch and The Uninvited, but here she shows she has real acting chops. She is in every scene, and many of those scenes consist of very long takes, with the camera barely moving. This is also a brave performance many young actresses wouldn't be willing to do - Browning is nude for much of the running time (she is naked so much that after a while you won't even think about it).
This movie will obviously not be for all tastes. It's an art film. The pacing is slow, there's hardly any music and most of the characters are unlikeable. This is the kind of movie that's meant to unsettle and make you think rather than to simply entertain. I would recommend it to cinephiles, but people who find art films "boring" and think The Criterion Collection is overrated may wish to look elsewhere.
I'm glad that more of these smaller arthouse films are being made available to watch online. Most of the time it's impossible to see them in the theater unless you live in a large city or want to drive a long distance, and you can only read about them while waiting however many months it takes for the DVD.
I would be willing to buy this on Blu-ray, but as of this writing a Blu-ray has only been announced for the U.K. I have a feeling this will only be on DVD in the U.S., and if so, it's a shame.
on March 10, 2012
On paper, Sleeping Beauty is a great idea. If the film is horrible, you have actress Emily Browning walking around naked for a good majority of the film. How can you lose right? Well, Julia Leigh's directorial debut fails to even be erotic. There's nothing particular titillating about it, so the sexual content doesn't even compensate for how unengaging the film is. In 2008, the script made the 2008 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays going around Hollywood. I'm starting to doubt the validity of the Black List, considering the last film I read about making this list was Cop Out. Sleeping Beauty premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and received a lukewarm reception in its limited release. The next time you hear someone negatively describe a film as "pretentious art house fare," you can look to this film to get a better understanding of what they mean.
Emily Browning plays Lucy, a university student with a number of odd jobs. There's little insight into her personality, although we see her at a club agreeing to have sex with a man as the result of a coin toss. Lucy responds to an ad in the student newspaper and meets Clara (Rachael Blake), who tells her the job is freelance silver service (basically a waitress) where she'll be clad only in lingerie (others are nearly naked) catering to upper-class, mostly older men. Remember the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut? It's easy to imagine those same people in attendance being served here. It's similarly elite and mysterious. As an employee, Lucy is called Sara and is told on the first day to match her lipstick to the color of her labia. Clara soon requests Lucy for a different type of job. She's given a drink that puts her to sleep, her sedated body is put in a bed, and men are allowed to join her to do whatever they wish, with a strict "no penetration" rule.
Sounds fascinating right? Well, it's not. I have to give it some credit though. Obviously, this material could've been presented in a trashy, exploitive way; instead it's an art house snoozefest that seems to be trying way too hard. It only seems exploitive because of how utterly pointless it seems. Not concerned with plot or character, it builds on neither. Most of the dialogue is trivial, providing neither insight nor explanation. Browning is in every scene of the film (or close to it) and her character Lucy is completely without depth. We watch her interact with her two landlords, who clearly aren't fond of her but it doesn't explore that any further. She has some sort of emotional relationship with a man her age, known only as Birdman (Ewen Leslie) whose drug addiction is killing him, but whatever.
There are minimal cuts, with most scenes composed of unbroken shots. The camera holds on the subject until a cut is absolutely necessarily, usually at the start of a new scene. With her filmmaking techniques, Leigh makes the audience a voyeur, with no emotional connection to what we're seeing. Sleeping Beauty is a cold, distant film that treats us like Lucy's customers; we can get close, but with no penetration. I'm not sure how the film benefits from Leigh's treatment of the subject. Perhaps it's commenting on the sexual exploitation of women and the way it's often passively regarded. Or even the emotionless way in which women allow themselves to be sexually exploited. Or maybe I'm just searching too deeply for a reason to have sat through the film.
The film is unafraid to take its time. In one instance, the camera holds on the face of an old man describing a book he discovered earlier that day and re-read. It's a long-winded (five minute), roundabout and pretentious way of giving us needless insight into this character. If this sounds like a negative critique of the scene, let me clarify; it's one of the best scenes in the film.
Most of the attention will be focused on the 23-year-old Emily Browning, who has been acting since the age of ten. The role does little for her, besides helping her shed her child-actress image by shedding all her clothes. It's a mature film made for mature audiences that has her wandering through much of it fully naked, but it doesn't allow her to show off the range or depth of her ability as an actress. Her innocent face and pale white skin make her an appropriate choice for the role, but it's unfortunate how one-dimensional it is through no fault of her own. She exposes her body, but the script gives her nothing else to expose. I don't need the psychological complexities of a character spoon-fed to me, but this goes beyond subtlety; there's nothing there.
It is a brave performance, considering she has to lie almost entirely motionless under old, naked men while they say and do vulgar things to her. She's smart to do it in a film that fancies itself art rather than an exploitation film. On making Sleeping Beauty, Browning said "Even reading the screenplay, it made me feel uncomfortable. But that was something that attracted me to it. I would prefer to polarize an audience as opposed to making an entertaining film everybody feels ambivalent about." I respect that outlook, but Sleeping Beauty is so cold it's not even discomforting. It renders you a passive observer. Browning is as good as she can be in the role, my only complaint being her screaming in the second to last scene. It didn't sit right with me, seeming unnatural and forced.
Let me be clear, I didn't hate Sleeping Beauty. I admire elements of Browning's performance, the austerity of Leigh's direction; I spent more time waiting for something to happen than I did waiting for it to end. The only time the monotony is broken is when a bit of a curveball is thrown towards the end, but the last shot is a slap in the face. It's abrupt, frustrating, and takes itself so seriously it's obnoxious. A film doesn't need to be meaningful; it has many functions it can serve, but what is this one's? Besides an excuse for Browning to take off her clothes, what has been said? Sleeping Beauty is lovely to look at sometimes, but it's so uninvolving you won't even be inspired to get up and turn it off halfway through.
on December 5, 2011
I was looking forward to seeing this movie because I really like Emily Browning. The movie started out pretty interesting but then turned bizarre. A young college student obviously in need of money has two jobs and seems to do a bit of prostituting herself at night at restaurants/bars on the side. She takes a job as a "freelance" private entertainer. Her first night after entertaining a party with other girls, she comes home and lights an Australian 100 dollar bill on fire? I did not get it in a practical sense considering she needed the money. What made it confusing to me is that her first night didn't seem to go so bad. There was no sex involved. She wore lingerie that covered up more of her than the other girl's outfits and all she did was pour drinks for the most part.
Another odd scene, at her office job, she was laying down( not sleeping) on the floor in the middle of the copy room and her boss walked in on her. No explanation, nothing and her boss said nothing to her.
She started to go to the home of her boss of the freelance job where she was given a drink to knock her out. She would sleep naked in bed while men came in to do bizarre things to her with one rule: no penetration. Then a second rule: no leaving marks( after an incident).
She was curious as to what went on and so decided to privately record one evening. I won't give it away but the movie ended showing what happened.
It wasn't a bad film, I thought it was definitely artsy but it left me a bit baffled at times.
on May 8, 2012
Sleeping Beauty is one of those films that sound intriguing but just end up being a huge letdown. The writer/director of this film tries too hard to be the female version of Stanley Kubrick. She uses a lot of his style like long, drawn-out takes and barely any thought-provoking dialogue. I just couldn't believe how deeply disturbing this film was and I'm usually a big fan of celebral/artsy movies but this one is so unsexy and completely pointless that I lost interest halfway through the film. The only reason I'm giving Sleeping Beauty 2 stars is because of the daring, fearless performance of Aussie star, Emily Browning. Browning is captivating to watch but even her talent isn't enough to make this film a winner for me! Such a disappointment.
There seem to be a few misconceptions about this film. And I'm surprised to see so many people rating it one star. It's an Australian indie-like film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I do feel there are a few things that need to be cleared up:
This is not an adult film. There is nudity of both male and females. In fact there is more male nudity than female nudity, so for people who are often turned away by that- they probably won't enjoy this film. But the nudity should not even be the main focus. It seems to me too many people made it into a big deal when in fact it was merely a minor detail. The filming is done tastefully and in a way that does not exploit the naked being film. Rather it simply portrays the characters, participating in whatever act they may be in, in a way that is honest- not pornographic. For those looking for a film of a sexual nature, I suggest looking elsewhere. Granted this film has many sexual scenes, but it is in no way an adult film.
This film is artistically done in a way that forces you to think. The creators obviously did not want a storyline that describes everything in minor detail. And I find it irritating that so many people expect films to spell things out for us. People writing reviews here seem to be complaining that the storyline was incomplete. It was meant to be- they wanted you to think. It's a film that forces you to look deeper rather than mindlessly watch. If you're looking for a typical boring tell-it-like-it-is film, go somewhere else. But if you want something so vividly portrayed that it will remain engrained in your memory, even after watching it, this is the right film to watch.
People also seem to say that this film is slow paced or has many empty spaces. Both could be true, but if you look at the film for what it is- a very artistic portrayal of the modern brothel trade, then you'll find the slow pace and empty spaces accentuate the story rather than dismember it. The film accurately and realistically captures a modern experience in aristocracy prostitution. This is not a cheap 'hop in a car' sort of ordeal, but rather a very thought-through process that involves people of a higher class. The films characters are both easy to hate and love- depending on where you stand and whether or not you can relate with them. The main character is a girl, quite lost and looking for financial freedom- who finds herself star struck by the larger paychecks of a prostitution gig that involves letting herself sleep while older men... experience her. Most of these men are passed their ability to perform and do not wish to do anything but live their younger days vicariously through her sleeping body. But obviously each men has his own story- and in this film you'll find them all. Some parts are very difficult to watch. Some characters you will hate and hold animosity to, others you will empathize with, and some you will simply pity. There are no definite characters that you can truly "love", if you capture them honestly. None are good, and none are evil. They're human, and I think that's what makes the storyline so magnificent. There is exquisite trait to one character that makes them better than the others. They're all equal in their own ways.
The filming is done very simply. The sets are simple. But these all mimic the simple storyline. There are parts that will perhaps confuse you- but I found these thought-provoking. I loved watching a film that introduced me to a new way of thinking. I found the subject matter tastefully portrayed. I sympathized and hated characters. I was completely enveloped in the story. And this movie is definitely one I have not easily forgotten. It's certainly among one of my recent favorites.
on June 4, 2016
A quiet, dark tale about one womyn's journey as an object of beauty. A film for an intelligent, patient, observant audience. Not for everyone. I have watched this many times and own it. It has deep levels to its story telling which may go unnoticed by most. Believe it or not, this is a post-feminist take on what it is to be treated as a sex object. The director, Julia Leigh, speaks of this in depth in the extras (which have to be found online for they are not available on the DVD, unsure of the bluray) ~ which are also very intriguing to listen to. A brilliant film. Emily Browning is not only beautiful in this film, but she offers a stunning subliminal depth as an actress with her mere presence. A graceful film. It will haunt you.
on March 19, 2014
This is a film for a very specific sort of audience. The people who call it bleak, or empty, are the very basis of why it was made. Sleeping Beauty is a post-nihilistic reflection of the modern condition. As allegorical as it is consistent, it avoids all obviousness and pretense instead opting toward subtext toward appealing to its niche audience of writers, pragmatists, and existentialists.
The film relies heavily on existentialism, Marxist-leaning evidences, and the darknesses of aging and desire. Rather than keying on these things specifically, though, Sleeping Beauty gives glimpses into these topics with a most severe insensitivity. The characters are so embroiled with these topics they operate carelessly, free of concern of consequences of living lives many might see as being nightmarish. The end product is a main character, brilliantly played by Emily Browning, with such utter beauty, with such utter disregard, and such utter callousness towards life, that she largely represents as an archetype the reptilian qualities, along with the serial numbness, most if not all of us carry within ourselves to lesser degrees.
on September 17, 2012
Emily Browning starts in Jane Campion's new movie. "Sleeping Beauty" is an art movie that will divide audience to two distinct groups: love the move and hate the movie kinds. To me personally this film is multifaceted. If one thinks of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" it is a story about the young woman, put to sleep by the evil witch and woken up from her long dream by the handsome prince. In this story, beautiful young woman is put to sleep by the madam who assures her that she will never be sexually violated while asleep. Her indiference towards the world around her is complementing her new world of a woman whose body is used by older man in a ways she cannot imagine. Lucy, which is the girl's name, becomes Sarah for the purposes of these sessions. She is well compensated for her time and her services. And she cannot recall what clients do to her during hours of her sleep.
Over time, Lucy becomes curious about what happens to her while she is asleep. But her madam is not interested in making exceptions and allowing her to observe what clients do with her while she is asleep. Until one day, Lucy, the sleeping beauty, awakens to find out that life will never be happily ever after. Like many of her clients, she will be broken to pieces and she will have the rest of her life to live with those emotions.
Controversial film that looks at disenchanted young woman unable to connect to the world around her. She is detached from her world and her loneliness lead her to experiences that will shake up her very being.
on April 5, 2014
I fear that few who watch this modern masterpiece will see the obvious biblical and Renaissance artistic allusions in its plot, imagery, and theme. The only people likely to notice are those who, when braving the force of the tourist stampede through the Uffizi museum in Florence Italy in summer hold their ground and marvel at what Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli and, of course, Titian accomplished so many centuries ago.
The renaissance masters managed to bring out the beauty in otherwise ordinary women, which, of course, had important positive social consequences. There is a marked contrast between the beauty of the model in Botticelli's 'birth of venus' or the model in Titian's 'Venus of Urbino' and the stock Hollywood vision of female beauty embodied in Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman in her prime, Catherine Deneuve, Ava Gardner, Jennifer Connelly, Rita Haworth, and several others.
Emily Browning is hardly a "beauty" by modern Hollywood standards, but then I daresay the Renaissance masters may well have considered her so. In the movie, the parties her character was employed to serve nude and semi nude have her as the only server wearing white lingerie as opposed to the older and more seasoned nudes wearing black. She symbolized youth, innocence and purity. To the elderly patrons at these affairs, perhaps youth was the major component of beauty.
And of course nudity is the great equalizer, stripping away the raiments of wealth and artifice. Many years ago in high school I always marveled at how the popular, well dressed and well made up girls looked remarkably similar to most of the other girls when in gym class all clad in the same skimpy blue uniforms. Seventy percent of them looked moderately and indistinguishably inviting.
Emily Browning's character's second employment role to sleep while being admired by old men seems secondary to the more all encompassing "sleep walking through life" of this girl without any direction, ambition or focus. This is a girl without any plan or goals, but one who reacts only to the urge of the moment - so clearly demonstrated when she goes to a bar and her opening and only pickup line to an attractive young man is "I would love to such your cock." Direct perhaps, but with a rather limited objective and a very low probability of securing the advantages of a longer term relationship. By choice, her life seems a series of dead end jobs,dead end relationships and decisions driven by impulse.
In the old testament of the Bible, whenever an aging king or chief was near death, the elders would find a young virgin (typically 13 or 14 years old) and put her in bed with the ailing chief in hopes of reviving him. Of course in reality, a man on his death bed ordinarily dies, and one must wonder at a young girl's feelings of honor and pride at being selected as the most "beautiful" followed by the horror of having failed in the ultimate mission and seeing the ailing chief dead and fearing that perhaps she was the cause. Sadly, the Bible story always ends at the death of the chief with never a mention of the effect on the young girl.
This movie, sleeping beauty shows us that effect in all its chilling enormity.
In my advancing age, I often think back with a sense of guilt to the many young ladies that I approached and got to know in my youth many years ago, and who I never bothered to convince that they were lovely or told how much I appreciated them. The urges and urgency of youth never seemed to allow time for such a thing. Upon seeing this movie, Sleeping Beauty, it would seem that old men should undertake just such a mission, but if we did, we would be thought perverts, so we admire in silence and at a distance, doing young ladies most in need no good whatsoever. Such is life.
The old men in this movie look as lost and pathetic as Emily Browning's character, and seem stuck in an arrested stage of development where they do not know how to appreciate the beauty of youth. Indeed a useful contrast would be with the movie "Venus" starring an aging Peter O'Toole and Jodie Whittaker in which the same themes and issues are explored but in a more comedic and sympathetic way.
Sleeping Beauty has much more graphic bite.
Very seldom do I see a movie that causes me to marvel in the presence of a virtuoso performance. I am transported back to that year at Johns Hopkins studying the Victorian Poets and their obsession with the question whether great art is a product of inspiration - the muse - or of conscious craft. With the movie "Sleeping Beauty" the cynic in me screams "accident" as in a hundred monkeys banging away at typewriters for a century, or more charitably "creative inspiration," but having no familiarity whatever with the screenwriter and producer, I am forced to suspect a strong dose of conscious craft as well.
Watch it with your thinking caps on and realize that one of its objective intentions (for it is impossible for us to know the subjective intentions of the screenwriter and producer) is to have you think about and perhaps appreciate beauty in a very unconventional way.
I can certainly understand why some do not connect with Julia Leigh's art house provocation "Sleeping Beauty." I found it a fascinating, if flawed, interpretation of the classic story by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. (In a stroke of coincidence, I also recently viewed the German film "House of the Sleeping Beauties"). Interestingly, Leigh switches up the narrative vantage point. In both the source novella and the previous film version, the tale is told from a male client's perspective. This piece is seen from a female viewpoint, at least when she isn't sleeping! I thought this had a great deal of potential. The subject of "Sleeping Beauty" is an intriguing and bizarre one. It focuses on a professional establishment in which men pay to spend the night with young women who are passed out. The encounters are not necessarily sexual in nature, but often about loneliness, desperation, and/or companionship. This movie, therefore, held the promise of revealing the "whys" behind those who would work there when we'd only ever seen it from the other side.
Emily Browning plays the central figure, a somewhat enigmatic young woman trying to makes ends meet. We see her through a series of odd jobs and random sexual encounters, but she always remains an aloof presence. This being an arty exploration of sensuality, the dialogue can be rather sparse and the character interactions somewhat empty. Therefore, Browning (a talented actress) exercises few emotions--flirtatious or vacant with little middle ground. Any hopes of identifying with her motivations are quickly dashed and she remains a cipher throughout. When she finally gets around to the sleeping arrangement, it seems to be for no other reason than financial independence. As she so carelessly and wantonly seems to accept her lot as a sexual being, there is little time for introspection. Things get decidedly more dramatic, but as we don't really know Browning as a real person, it is hard to muster much actual interest or emotion about her circumstances.
Still, I didn't think "Sleeping Beauty" was a complete write-off by any means. Browning may be one to watch, she has genuine presence. The film is intriguing in its subject matter and is executed well. But it still feels too hollow, like there's a huge void at its center. If Leigh wanted to leave her central character so open-ended, that's fine. But it caused me to limit my investment in the film's outcome. Wanted to love the movie, but I found it an interesting experiment that I never fully connected with. KGHarris, 4/12.