Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty"

The DailySleeping Beauty

Well before Sleeping Beauty and Steve McQueen's Shame opened more or less at the same time a couple of weeks ago (the rollout for each of them has varied), both films were already being spoken of in the same breath. No one, though, has gone as far in comparing the two as Laura Kern has in the latest issue of Film Comment, where her reviews of both — identical but for a few name changes and minor tweaks — are propped up against each other in side-by-side columns. Still, several reviews of one have at least mentioned the other and, in a recent piece for the LA Weekly, Gustavo Turner takes an industry town-view of this unintentional double feature, ultimately arguing that the "problem with marketing films like Shame or Sleeping Beauty as the heirs to some great sex-positive art-house tradition — a sophisticated, almost quaintly retro alternative to the Barely Legal Gangbang anarchy instantly available via the web — is that these films are not remotely erotic."

We've already pretty well worn Shame out, rounding up reviews from Venice, Telluride and Toronto, and then from the New York Film Festival; Ignatiy Vishnevetsky then reviewed it on its official opening weekend. I thought, though, that we might take one parting glance at Sleeping Beauty, and we can begin with Miriam Bale, who writes in the L that this "directorial debut by the novelist Julia Leigh about a broke college girl who finds herself selling her body in an Eyes Wide Shut-style high-end whore mansion, seems as if it was developed from a very strong three-sentence thesis that emerges in the film's last few scenes. That thesis can be summed up like this: 'To be a woman is to sleepwalk through endless disrespect and abuse aimed, not towards you, but all women. And this bitterness or hatred has its root in men's resentment over their sexual need combined with economic equality that keeps women needy. Furthermore, as a woman, if you wake up to face the reality of the man who needs to lord his power over a woman — all women — because of feeling powerless while naked and vulnerable in her presence, if you face the pathetic desperation of that hatred head on, the only thing to do is scream.' … This is a very strong thesis, but it's not a good movie."

"A manor run by Clara (Rachael Blake) allows older, paying men to spend the night in the company of a young woman willingly drugged into unconscious compliance," explains Kristi Mitsuda in Reverse Shot. "The only rule? No penetration; everything else is fair game, so long as it doesn't leave a mark. To the ladies of the night, the madam says, 'You'll go to sleep. You'll wake up. You'll feel profoundly restored.' To the men, 'You'll be safe here. There's no shame. No one can see you.' … Sleeping Beauty is withholding to a fault, providing only the barest scraps of information about protagonist Lucy (Emily Browning), a perverse set-up since affording her a voice and the expressive capacities of consciousness would seem to be the film's raison d'être."

"In Buñuel's Belle de Jour, an obvious precursor to Leigh's film, the enigmatic, cosseted housewife played by Catherine Deneuve finds a bizarre psychosexual liberation through her 2-to-5 shift at a boutique brothel," notes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "What happens there also remains largely offscreen, but Buñuel's protagonist, unlike Lucy, possesses desire and sexual curiosity. Leigh's affectless heroine, in contrast, is forever engaged in joyless, inexplicable rituals, professionally and personally; her visits to a shut-in friend are marked by a strange exchange of pleasantries, delivered robotically…. Leigh's movie also, of course, nods to the zonked-out damsel of the centuries-old fairy tale — a legend subverted much more memorably in Catherine Breillat's clear, defiant The Sleeping Beauty, released earlier this year. But Leigh's Sleeping Beauty isn't a reinterpretation of the heroine of yore. Wrestling with that myth would require, at the very least, a point of view — a willingness to wake up."

More from Bilge Ebiri (Vulture), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Dan Kois (Slate), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Trevor Link (Spectrum Culture), Patrick Z McGavin, Noel Murray (AV Club, B-), Michael Nordine (Slant, 3/4), Vadim Rizov (GreenCine Daily), AO Scott (New York Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 4/5) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10). Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay interviews Leigh and Movieline's ST VanAirsdale interviews Browning.

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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