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Sleeping Beauty

Chicago International Film Festival 2011

Sleeping Beauty Directed by: Julia Leigh Cast: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: NR Release Date: TBD

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PLOT: Sleeping Beauty chronicles a young woman's sexual and emotional awakening as she finds herself working for an unconventional service that helps men play out their secret desires.

WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of esoteric, if not beautiful filmmaking might be particularly taken with Leigh's story, but it's definitely not for everyone.


Sleeping Beauty is an alarmingly accurate title for director Julia Leigh’s debut. On the one hand, its color palette and elegant decor make it one of the more visually striking entries at the Chicago International Film Festival this year. However, for those that aren’t as interested in the visual artistry of the film, they’re more than likely to find themselves sleeping through most of the film.

Leigh does her best to offer an emotionally engaging story about a young woman’s sexual awakening, but there is something in the film’s delivery that prevents from achieving greatness. Sleeping Beauty is one of those unfortunate films where silence and/or lack of dialogue is mistaken for profundity. While it seems a little ridiculous to over-explain the actions of your characters, Leigh never really explains them at all. Instead, she trades in any moments of exposition for long takes of a dazed Emily Browning looking off in the distance. Leigh doesn’t do herself any favors by starting her film in the middle of a crucial part of Lucy’s life. As we watch her drift from job to job, to a discontented home life, and ultimately a life of exploitation, we’re never told how she got to this place in her life. Nevertheless, what Leigh fails to offer in dialogue, she more than makes up for in visual artistry, ranging from the Australian metropolis at night to the Baroque furniture of Clara’s home. This makes Sleeping Beauty somewhat breathtaking in its beauty, but all together forgettable.

Although Sleeping Beauty struggles with its narrative and with its pacing at times, it does succeed on one fundamental level. Sleeping Beauty makes you feel. Emily Browning is tragically haunting in the role of Lucy. While the character and her origins are mysterious, for the most part, her emotions are raw. Browning deserves most of the credit for the quiet intensity of the film. As she struggles to make sense of herself as a woman, the audience sees the hesitation, confusion, and sense of loss clearly on her face. If the story had done more to highlight Browning’s emotional range as an actress, Sleeping Beauty might have been a truly great film. Instead, it serves as a visually stunning reminder of Emily Browning’s ability as an actress.

Where Sleeping Beauty succeeds is its understanding of the camera. It captures an unparalleled beauty and a truly remarkable performance. However, this is never enough to overcome its narrative failings. The story is scattered and underdeveloped in its weakest moments. Even at its finest, it privileges the emotion rather than why the emotion is being felt.


CIFF 2011 On the Bridge

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