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|Index||118 reviews in total|
OK, after reading review after review that deliberately refused to
engage with the content that was clearly on the screen, I decided to
respond to this one:
"However the viewer is distracted by wondering how she manages to fit in her tertiary maths course, a day time job collating documents that you'd expect the machine in the same room to do, second job at the café, visiting a dried out case who has muesli and gin for breakfast, getting picked up in bars and hiring on as a fetish object."
The muesli and gin (vodka?) episode comes when she visits a friend who is an addict/alcoholic, and she obviously is displaying that the only way to get some food into him is to mix it with alcohol. (Also apparent that she's taking the p-ss.) The other scenes are to set up the idea that none of the things she is engaged with in her life --work, school, family --really matter much to her, and that she's pretty much direction less. Also that she needs to work hard to get by, which should be obvious enough. It establishes enough drudgery to explain why she might be attracted to the danger and risk-taking she embarks on.
"Lets not start in on why she burns the hundred dollar note in sustained shot, like the opening with white coat shoving a tube down her throat."
The first is to show her reaction to having some money --as someone who had to struggle for it for so long, she enjoys the sheer pleasure of acting out the idea of having "money to burn". The lab tests, meanwhile, are to show you how desperate she is to pick up some cash through odd jobs -- it also sets up the irony of her being "penetrated" in her straight job, while not being penetrated in her sleeping call girl one.
"As for the performers, our sympathy for the actors' humiliation overrides any criticism of their performances."
Browning did an excellent job, and certainly better than anyone had a right to expect after "Sucker Punch". I hear over and over about what a "blank" she was; I did not find that to be the case at all: nearly every scene plays out on her face and reactions, and I was constantly following her closely for clues as to where her character was coming from. And yes, there were plenty. As for the nudity, this emphasizes her character's vulnerability, especially when contrasted with her clients. The key moment here is when she finds, after starting her "sleeping beauty" job, that she's no longer comfortable sleeping naked at home, and puts on some undies. What her eyes don't remember from her sleeping sessions, it seems her body memory does.
Like the above review suggests, there are a lot of opinions out there about how opaque the film is supposed to be; that's not true at all. The film does leave some gaps for your imagination, and it tends to make you focus on detail and draw your own conclusions --everything isn't spelled out in neat little packets of dialog, as some seem to wish for. ("I'm prostituting myself because my daddy didn't love me when I was young and my mother's an alcoholic." -- I suppose that would be the American version.) This is hardly "Inland Empire", though, and the plot dots are certainly there to be connected for anyone who's looking. The pace is hypnotic, which some will call "slow", and the ending is deliberately vague, but I was surprised how much it left me thinking about the characters, what happened to them both before and after. Haunting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lucy (Emily Browning) is a student working on a number of jobs. She's a
waitress, she works in an office and she's involved with a science
experiment at her university too. She's not co-operating with her
housemates though and the rent is overdue. When she sees an ad in the
paper she applies for it. She's driven to a manor house where she meets
Clara (Rachael Blake). Clara describes the job, which involves Lucy
being sedated in a bed and allowing men to watch her sleep. Lucy is
assured that she will not be penetrated. Her first task with several
other women is to serve a group of old men dinner at the manor house.
After this she is put in a deep sleep and studied individually by three
different men. Outside her job, one of Lucy's few relationships is with
an old friend of hers called Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), a recovering
Sleeping Beauty, the directional debut of Julia Leigh, is a film strictly for those seeking a more challenging and ambiguous brand of cinema. Its minimalism and utter restraint works mostly for rather than against its purpose. The film is richly successful in creating a world that's entirely consuming and isolating for its protagonist. Leigh relies on desaturation, like white colour palettes, to visualise this alienation. The majority of the film is also elegantly photographed at a distance using a wide angle shot to represent the isolation as Lucy becomes an individual, overwhelmed by her surroundings. Save for a misplaced phone box, it was pleasing to see a familiar location, with numerous scenes being shot at the University of Sydney. Leigh has an equally skillful understanding of the power of silence too. Music is almost nonexistent and the dialogue is sparing so we rely entirely on our vision here; making the film compelling and tense for its entirety. And it's extremely leisurely paced too, holding scenes for a very long time, with particular still framing, from a near-invisible camera. These formal aspects work to produce a dream-like state of slow, concentrated and delicate movements. As each scene fades to black, like the shutting of an eyelid, it becomes increasingly apparent that Lucy is almost sleeping walking through her life, with no prince to wake her up.
Rather mistakenly, a lot will be made about the film's morally ambiguous view of sexuality. The film does not include any sex scenes. It is a strict rule of the organisation that there is no penetration. As suggested by the composition, the film is more fascinatingly occupied by voyeuristic tendencies but also the desire to awaken our deepest fantasies. This is visualised through a number of scenes at the manor house. The first is the most confronting, where topless women, covered in thin, revealing straps, cater for old men as they poor them drinks and serve them dinner. It's gratuitous but that's precisely the point because its one geezers bizarre fantasy to another. There are three additional encounters in the bedroom itself: one man who is lightly physically, moving his hands across Lucy's back; another who is intensely aggressive and the third is someone who simply mishandles her. The contrast to this is Lucy who as the sleeping beauty can only realise her fantasies through words. The dialogue drifts between outright coarse and maddeningly cryptic. Lucy asks her friend Birdmann if he'll marry her, not as a proposal, but as self-assurance. This suggests again that the characters in Leigh's world need to hear what they want to hear to be satisfied. The film falters with these side characters like Birdmann because we don't know enough about them and they tend to fade in and out of the film for lengthy stretches of time. And some will lament Emily Browning's subdued performance for its lack of personality but given the dream-like state of her character it actually suits the film. Her slender frame too makes her a particularly diminutive outcast. The film's ambiguity, isolation and peculiarity, will be detrimental for a lot of viewers. It's unlikely to attract big audiences because it is a slow, unnerving experience. But it's difficult to fault the film's artistry and its originality. Some people at the screening I went to left early. More fool them. I kept watching.
This movie's trailer got people talking because of its very Kubrick
vibe. And, in fact, the movie explores territory very similar to 'Eyes
Wide Shut'. How sex has become more liberal and extreme, yet also
sterile and disconnected.
The lead character, Lucy, (Emily Browning - a long way from Lemony Snicket) exhibits this. She'll sleep with people at the drop of a hat, yet with little evidence of desire. In fact, there's hardly any evidence that she processes strong emotions at all. She just goes about her business. Things happen to her, and she's too reticent to shrug them off.
To solve financial worries, Lucy gets a job at a posh, exclusive establishment where she is willingly placed naked and unconscious in a bedroom for a client, to do with her as he wishes (except penetration).
Through Lucy and the various clients, we see how we need vulnerability in others to relax the masks that we wear. Otherwise, we are so preoccupied with maintaining an image that we don't even try and connect with others. Emily Browning does well at rounding out the expressionless Lucy, and the voyeuristic nature of the material makes the movie entertaining. Unfortunately, the ending, though a pretty logical conclusion, also feel anti-climatic, a tad obvious and leaves us feeling short-changed.
The film is an interesting, respectful, non-gratuitous effort, yet many will ultimately find it like the leading lady - pretty impenetrable.
When you create a film and title it "Sleeping Beauty," you had better
not make it boring. Otherwise, you'll get reviews utilizing every
possible play on the word "sleep," but more importantly, word of mouth
will spread using the same types of puns. When you use a title made
famous by the Disney animation, you're going to have to guard against
those comparisons as well. As you can see, this film is already on the
To put even more pressure on "Sleeping Beauty," before it has even begun, is the fact that it is the directorial debut of a novelist. Julia Leigh also wrote the screenplay, but it is her first time stepping behind the camera to helm a film production. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it means an even bigger risk was taken by the studios, and just as many debuts fall flat as they do flourish. Luckily, Leigh's is a success, even if her film isn't going to be something that many people are going to enjoy.
To start the film, we begin by watching the daily routine of a young woman named Lucy (Emily Browning). The first scene made me cringe, as we find out that one of her many jobs involves testing out medical equipment. We watch a tube being inserted down her throat. This is done in one unflinching shot that has the opposite effect on the viewer. Later on, we learn she also does office work and works at a restaurant, but the medical testing was by far her worst job.
Why does she need to work three jobs? That's really a good question. We learn that she's behind on her rent, and also goes to school. Maybe school is really expensive, but she only seems to have one class, which can't be too heavy a burden. She's renting a room from people she knows, and I wouldn't think that would be that expensive either. Why she doesn't pay her rent on time, I'll never know. This isn't a film that's going to lay things out for you.
Because working three jobs isn't enough for Lucy, she inquires about an ad in the paper that requires her to serve dinner to old rich men while wearing lingerie. It pays $250 an hour, although it's freelance work, we're told. She works once, and after she gets home, she burns a $20 bill. Why? Again, I don't know, and it's actions like this that make me think she isn't wanting for cash. Regardless, working multiple jobs, including the dinner-while-wearing-lingerie one, continues for most of the film, even as her performance gets so bad that she sometimes sleeps on the floor while working.
Sleeping is something she'll end up doing quite a bit as the film continues on. She was told when she took the server job that there were opportunities for promotion. She gets that chance later on, when she's told that she can take a drug, lay naked in bed while passed out, and sleep for a few hours. Oh, and an elderly man will come in and sleep with her while she's knocked out. "Sleep with" in the literal sense of the meaning, as actual intercourse is forbidden.
Not that Lucy really cares. She doesn't seem to care much about herself, and would probably have accepted the job without the binding rule. She's the type of nihilist that will do whatever anyone wants her to do at the flip of a coin. At a bar, she's approached and asked if she wants some cocaine. "Why not?" is her response. Later, two men she just met actually use a coin to decide which one would have sex with her that night. She doesn't care, although come to think of it, I can't remember her saying "no" once to anyone in the film. She's very polite, even if she has no regard for her own body.
There's a lot of symbolism in the film, and if you thought this was a film that's going to make it easy on you, you can look elsewhere. You're going to have to infer a great deal about the characters and their reason for doing what they do for most of the time you watch them. I can see this being seen by some as a lack of character depth and development, but I think it's all there and just hidden behind imagery and a classic fairy tale. The way I saw "Sleeping Beauty," it actually does steal a couple of things from Disney cartoon. Unfortunately, giving that away now might change the way you view the film, so instead, go in with as fresh a mind as you can. This is a movie that will reward subsequent viewings.
If there's a problem here, it's the character of Lucy. She's often difficult to like, and because she's such an apathetic person, not a lot goes on. She's little farther, for better or worse, when the film ends than when it began. None of the blame can go to Emily Browning, as she plays her without fear, but the way the character is written means that she's not exactly amiable or has a decent enough personality to build a film around. This is largely forgotten about once it gets going, but upon reflection, making her grow as the film progressed would have improved it as a whole.
Regardless, I was engaged by "Sleeping Beauty." Is it for everyone? Not at all. If you like artsy films that are there for you to figure out instead of being told everything about them, then it might work for you. It has a solid performance from Emily Browning in the lead role, and it has enough imagery and symbolism to keep you coming back for another watch. That is, if you don't fall asleep during the first time.
In over half a century of cinema-going, I've seen a (deliberately) wide
range of movies, including some really strange and cryptic work, and I
have to say that the Australian "Sleeping Beauty" falls firmly in the
odd and opaque category. Coincidentally another film in the very
unusual bracket is the similarly named "Sleeping Furiously" set in
Wales. "Sleeping Beauty" is not quite as slow - although it is very
measured indeed - but the obscure meaning of many scenes sets it apart.
There is as much nudity as "Eyes Wide Shut" with which it bears (sorry
for the pun) some comparison, but a much weaker storyline.
This is an adventurous selection for a first film from Julia Leigh who both directed and wrote this strange tale of a Sdyney student who is prepared to sell her body in a variety of circumstances in order to pay her bills. And it is a bold choice for Emily Browning who moves on from "Sucker Punch" to take the eponymous role, meaning that she is rarely off screen and has to appear totally nude. There is virtually no music and very little dialogue (especially from Browning) so there is an astonishing focus on her face - doll-like with high cheek bones and cupid lips - and her body - diminutive, pale and slight.
But this is far from being an erotic work; in fact, it is a depressing one. None of the characters elicits our sympathy or warmth and Browning's character Lucy seems to be sleep-walking and drugged when she is not actually sleeping and drugged.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nobody in the movie actually said the lines above but it is the clear
implication when a bunch of wealthy, but sexually and emotionally
impotent old men gratify themselves (sort of) with a drugged,
unconscious young woman.
A young woman (Lucy) is hired by a service that caters to old rich guys. It's kind of an Old Guys Club where scantily clad and semi-nude young women serve the members their meals and drinks, and such. Of particular note though -and hence the title- is that this young woman is later hired for extra duties that calls for her to take some drug that puts her to sleep while the old guys (individually) have there way with her (They wish!). However there is a stipulation of "no penetration" (Drats!)
It is the offbeat nature of this movie and it's curious lead character that makes it interesting. If there were lots of movies like this I might have given it a lower rating (Someone else might have done it better, who knows). But this movie is kind of out there by itself. Another of those "little movies" giving big-budget productions the finger by being more interesting than many of them; doing more with less money but with more courage, intelligence, and originality.
Lucy is a "passive-aggressive" harboring resentment against those who dominate her and herself for letting them. The movie is all about her curious way of living with and remedying this situation. Lucy fights back by being compliant -or pliant- take your pick. As well, by doing "small things" (petty) to get back at the powers that be. I had to feel sorry for her and chuckle at the same time when she took a handful of berries or something and dumped them quietly in the back of an expensive and well kept car. Another example of her "getting back" is that the first thing she did when she got her first payment for her services to the Old Guys Club is burn one of the bills. This she did not to their face, but quietly, by herself at home. That, in my humble opinion, was a big passive-aggressive "F!!ck you!" to the powers that be. There's a basic recklessness in Lucy that seems self-destructive. This young woman probably has never said "No" to any drug she's ever been offered. If you choose to see the movie you might wind up being an arm-chair psychologist like myself. So it's a movie that makes you think, makes you wonder, "What's up with that girl?"
There is a clear irony here: The old men are influential and rich but they're also sexually impotent. Lucy on the other hand, while not having their wealth, self-confidence, and influence is a potent sexual symbol; young, attractive, and desirable. Some of the old guys admire it, others resent it. Two types of cripples, then, drawn to each other. One needing youth, beauty, and sexual power and the other financially dependent on them and lacking the courage to stick up for herself; assert her own person. Finally, I'm thinking that if the old guys could have a boner they'd want Lucy awake to see it. Love, Boloxxxi.
I will carefully watch the career of Director Leigh and at all costs avoid anything that she ever makes again. There is a severe and astounding lack of story line or plot and any promise of a haunting, thrilling complex tale is a flat out lie. The film is a disjointed sequence of odd non relating scene's some of which are totally pointless and the rest are only fairly pointless. I would recommend anyone to watch anything else than this. There is no subtext, there is no complexity only pretentious gibberish. I hope this does not mean the end of Emily Browning, who was faultless in Sucker Punch but if that is the cost of never hearing of this film again it will be a bargain. 1 star and a grudging one at that!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As the credits came up at the end of Sleeping Beauty the audience
reaction was immediate, half chuckled nervously and I heard the word
"What?" thrown around a bit. The other half stared ahead, absorbing
what we'd just seen. It's clear that this will divide audiences.
Julia Leigh's directorial debut from her own screenplay follows the emotionally complex character Lucy (Emily Browning), a university student with a multitude of part-time jobs and a social life that can only be described as controversial. It's made clear early on that Lucy has no solid relationships, the only friend she's seen out with her seems more like a madam than a friend, her kinder flatmate is too weak to defend her from her male counter-part, her unseen mother is an abusive alcoholic chasing Lucy for money and her father is either long absent or passed away. There is only 'Birdman', a young man slowly dying from alcoholism cast away from Lucy's ex-boyfriends circle of friends. His company seems to be cathartic for Lucy, an alcoholic that is kind and not abusive like her mother.
When Lucy responds to an ad in the University paper for 'Silver Service Waitress' she is introduced to Clara (Rachael Blake), a 'madam' for want of a better word. Rachael Blake's performance is tonally perfect, her Clara is elegant and seemingly disenchanted with her work. When she gives Lucy details of each task she is too perform, it always comes with a warning, each step is explained with an obvious and painful personal knowledge of the job. This sort of work is new for Lucy, it's forces social interaction which she was adept at avoiding in all her other jobs. And it also forces her into a position of submission, not at all something she is used to in her usual role as the dominate sexual partner in her string of empty encounters with middle aged, middle-class businessmen.
Lucy's role in the Sleeping Chamber comes across as something akin to a hearthstone where wealthy old men gather to realize or recapture feelings long since lost or denied to them, intimacy, sexual dominance and physical strength are examples of themes her subdued body are exposed to, even in this secret world of control they still fail and it's Lucy that absorbs the cost.
Nearly every important scene and transaction in the film is hidden in subtext, Leigh makes the audience work to make the connections and draw conclusions by dropping breadcrumbs and leaving enough for us to see the whole story without having to resort to spoon fed exposition. It makes for an interesting contrast, characters that feel entirely real viewed through cold artistic lens. This approach does present a challenge not only to the filmmakers but the audience, Lucy is very much a curious protagonist. She's cold and reckless, acts on the most childish of impulses in an effort to keep everyone at arms length. It's justifiable though, her family, her friends and her ex have let her down. Even Clara fails to uphold her promise to protect her from violation.
Emily Browning is a powerful force in the film, finding the perfect balance of a young woman struggling to hold her wall up against the world, but giving us enough to glimpse a real person underneath the cracks through something as subtle as the softening of her eyes. She shows an extreme level of dedication to the role, not only adhering to the required nudity, but also the context of those scenes, it becomes very intense viewing. Don't expect titillation to be found anywhere here, the uncovered flesh is a tool of contrast. Despite the ethereal beauty Emily Browning commands on screen, there is nothing sexy about what you see. But in the end, I found her to still be a real person, I sympathized and indeed felt for her.
Sleeping Beauty is much like the blooming of a flower, all the petals open slowly in unison, not one at a time, it isn't until it's finished can we admire it in it's entirety. And there is a lot to admire here if you go in with an open mind, look past the stylized exterior and delve underneath.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The debut feature film by novelist Julia Leigh is anything but
artistic, which is a goal that she obviously set out to achieve.
Sleeping Beauty follows a university student going from one mundane job
to another until she eventually settles into a position where she is
put into a coma-like state so that old men can fondle her naked body
while she lies in bed, lifeless. This interpretation of the classic
fairy tale goes beyond provocative, but falls flat due to the lack of
purpose of the main protagonist.
Lucy, played by Australian actress Emily Browning, is the anti-hero without any redeeming qualities. We first see her in a lab, where she is a subject in an experiment. While she sits there, quiet and static, we see the lab technician begin his experiment by testing her gag reflex as he gently shoves a long tube down her throat until she cannot take anymore. It is unnerving and uncomfortable, which sets the tone for the film.
We soon encounter the people in her life, such as her housemates who don't engage with her on a personable level, only on a business level by asking for her rent, and her needing to clean the house (subtle shout out to Cinderella?). Soon we meet Birdmann, a man who lives a small apartment littered with horded possessions, who is supposed to be Lucy's anchor and heart. However, there is something off about their relationship. While she makes him a bowl of cereal (with vodka instead of milk) their interaction is stagnant and to an extent, pointless. Who is this man? How do they know each other? Why doesn't she live with him? Too many questions rise from this relationship, but we are never let in as we are always kept at arm's length from discovering who the characters really are.
Tiresomely, the film goes on and Lucy answers an ad for high-end 'waitressing' for extra cash so she can make rent. This leads to an interview of scrutinous proportions, as she is poked and prodded and intimately examined by the Madame, played by Rachael Blake. She is soon hired, starting her journey as a high-end escort.
Her first gig is to serve a handful of elderly men (and one woman who is Benita from Play School, my childhood is now shattered!!) in a lavish mansion, wearing revealing white lingerie, whilst the other girls wear black (and certainly not sexy as it makes their breast look like baby bottles). The dinner party has somewhat of an Eyes Wide Shut vibe, with the setting and tone, but not as compelling.
Lucy falls deeper and deeper into this lifestyle, eventually offering herself to be put into a coma-like state as mentioned earlier. The film tries to show the softer side to these men in an effort to make us understand their desires, however, this creates long, boring monologues which ends in showing us an old mans cock (excuse my French).
On a positive note, the film looks beautiful. There was precise precision and technique applied to this film to give it a very European look. The sets, costumes and design is a thing of beauty which does keep you entranced. But by the time the third old mans penis came around, I literally could watch no more. There are not many films that I walk out on because as a critic and movie goer, there is a level of respect you must give the filmmakers. However on this occasion, I was at my last tether.
It was the lack of emotion throughout the film which ultimately made it all style without any substance. As much as I wanted to like the film, it was guilty of pretentious overload.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The depiction of human nature in this film is not completely miserable,
but it's pretty miserable. Emily Browning plays the largely inscrutable
Lisa, a university student in Sydney already exhibiting degrees of
nihilistic behaviour before she signs on as a silver service lingerie
waitress in a very weird, hoity-toity brothel of sorts. She quickly
'graduates' to the position of Sleeping Beauty in which, while
voluntarily drugged and asleep, she becomes a sexual prop for
grey-haired men rich enough to pay for the service. While asleep, she
sees and knows nothing of what happens, but the audience of this film
sees plenty. What is seen and heard is more disturbing than it is
visually explicit, excepting the nudity of all involved, especially
The question is - what is all this about? It is beautifully designed and photographed in still, square-on Kubrick style, with minimal editing and music. There are degrees of suspense and disturbance, mystery and eroticism, but there isn't much of a vector for any of these elements. The characters are variously arch and obnoxious, cold, stupid, reckless and unkind. We know little about any of them, and most of what we do learn doesn't make much sense. Bizarrely, the kindest person in the film seems to be the madam of the brothel, played by a magnificently still Rachael Blake.
I wondered, while watching Sleeping Beauty, how it was going to end itself. The final scene is pretty unsatisfying, given that the resolution depends on Lisa eventually seeking to find out what has been going on during her sleeps - something the audience doesn't just know already, but has watched at length as fact. And there is a twist which potentially confuses the denouement.
There is no doubting that this film is an experience and finely made, but there's a strain of dumb misery and pessimism at work here along the lines of Catherine Breillat and Michael Haneke. Everybody is hopeless and unkind, they don't know what they want, they can't evolve, they don't want to evolve. Lisa seems interested in a promiscuous brand of self-destruction for reasons the audience basically has to invent. The whole film also teeters on the edge of being one of those pieces where every single man is depicted as being a sex-enslaved scumbag. What you're left with is an aesthetically interesting film with a strong sensibility, but which is wearily negative about everything, and whose ending is also a letdown on the film's own terms.
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