“My vagina is not a temple”, mutters Lucy (Emily Browning).
That's just one of the many lines that show Lucy is no prude. And neither is Sleeping Beauty.
Sleeping Beauty is the first film from Julia Leigh, and it’s also the first film in competition for the coveted Palme d’Or this year. It’s also one of the most uncomfortable experiences in recent memory.
Many people I talked to after the screening agreed that not a lot exactly happens in Sleeping Beauty, which is partly why I’m not sure how far it will go critically. What little does happen, however, is disgusting, disquieting, and downright creepy. Initially, I would have called these positive traits of the film, which is intended as, well…
I guess I’m not really sure what this film is trying to accomplish.
Lucy has many forms of income. Some are legitimate (medical guinea pig, office slave, restaurant assistant), and then there’s the job that refers to the film’s title. Clara, the owner/operator of an extremely high-end brothel, hires young women to take a sedative, get naked, and wake up hours later without knowing what (or who) touches them. The “sleeping beauty” gig, as it were. The clients, however, are some pretty perverted dudes - and it certainly doesn’t help that the average age of the johns is more than four times the age of Lucy or the other girls.
Cinematically, it’s easy to get lost here. Unfortunately, it feels as if that’s exactly what happened to this film. Julia Leigh definitely exhibits immaculate control in her images, and it’s clear that the scenes are incredibly well-rehearsed (and acted) as there are few cuts in between dialogue. Except the intention of the film still remains a mystery. Why? Why does Lucy have 5 different jobs? How is she skipping out on her rent bill when her prostitution pays $250 an hour?
I must, however, note that Emily Browning’s performance is something else. It takes a lot of guts to undress for the camera, but Leigh has Lucy do a different kind of nudity. The audience sees everything, including some very twisted sexual fantasies that are enacted on separate occasions by three different octogenarians. So while it’s common to see women topless in films, it’s incredibly uncommon to see wrinkly, naked men mount a sleeping nubile and lick their face while calling them a whore. Mmhmm. Kudos to Emily Browning for agreeing to do the part. Can you imagine the initial phone conversation between first-time director Leigh and Browning?
I can certainly appreciate films like this, and I’m willing to bet most people tolerated the grotesque sex scenes. They are exquisitely shot. The problem with the film, unfortunately, is still lost amidst a flurry of naked bodies, montages of Lucy working, and static shots of her sleeping. We don’t – and won’t – know why it all happens.