Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco First Look Images: Patrick Stewart As A Neo-Nazi In 'Blue Ruin' Director Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' & More First Look Images: Patrick Stewart As A Neo-Nazi In 'Blue Ruin' Director Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' & More Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey R.I.P. Mike Nichols (1931-2014) R.I.P. Mike Nichols (1931-2014) Christopher Nolan Talks 'Interstellar' Twist And Enigmatic Ending Christopher Nolan Talks 'Interstellar' Twist And Enigmatic Ending Watch: Al Pacino Plays An Aging Rocker Transformed By John Lennon In First Trailer For ‘Danny Collins’ Watch: Al Pacino Plays An Aging Rocker Transformed By John Lennon In First Trailer For ‘Danny Collins’ Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, And More Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, And More Watch: First Trailer For 'The Age Of Adaline' Starring Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn And Harrison Ford Watch: First Trailer For 'The Age Of Adaline' Starring Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn And Harrison Ford Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination'  Starring Ethan Hawke SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination' Starring Ethan Hawke From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: Catherine Breillat's 'Sleeping Beauty' Tackles Fairy Tales Through The Prism Of Sex & Class

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist July 6, 2011 at 2:58AM

A little girl who dreams of being a boy. A boy who wishes to be seduced by an Ice Queen. High fantasy and tangled sexuality dovetail in “The Sleeping Beauty,” a fantastical retelling of the popular folklore involving the little girl brought to an eternal slumber. Like the original Brothers Grimm fairytale, this version differs sharply from the public’s greater awareness of the Disney-fied version. But where it takes the familiar-seeming tale differs greatly from the source, as it emerges from the fertile mind of French provacateur Catherine Breillat.
4


A little girl who dreams of being a boy. A boy who wishes to be seduced by an Ice Queen. High fantasy and tangled sexuality dovetail in “The Sleeping Beauty,” a fantastical retelling of the popular folklore involving the little girl brought to an eternal slumber. Like the original Brothers Grimm fairytale, this version differs sharply from the public’s greater awareness of the Disney-fied version. But where it takes the familiar-seeming tale differs greatly from the source, as it emerges from the fertile mind of French provacateur Catherine Breillat.

Breillat began her career as an abrasive provocateur, emerging as a major worldwide talent despite spotlighting explicit sexual material sure to make the greybeards red, and the redheads blue. While her latest career detour, with this and her recent “Bluebeard” tackling fantastical ancient myths, suggests a possibly commercial turn towards respectability, that notion ignores the idea of these two pictures, and particularly “The Sleeping Beauty,” plum depths not seen in this genre since Neil Jordan’s soulful “The Company Of Wolves.”


The girl of the title is first seen as a child, petulant little Anastasia refusing to participate in games meant for “silly little girls.” Instead, she re-imagines herself as a powerful troublemaker named Vladimir, refusing makeup and jumping from tree trunks. The turning point for her innocent “adventures” comes when she encounters an ogre, a half-naked older man covered in boils. The man is the first threat of her young life, and Breillat doesn’t downplay either the danger to the girl’s well-being, nor the sexual threat of this beastly representation of virile male consequence. Underlining this is the man’s status as a cave-dweller, which clashes with the girl’s lack of appreciation at her own aristocratic backgrounds. He says she is to blame for his condition, but he could be pointing at his boils and diseases, or his lustful, murderous state. Breillat delicately implies the thorny class conflicts that can create sexual longing and discomfort.

Anastasia runs off to find a destitute family begging for a young daughter. While the single mother is thankful for the daintiness of her new charge, the teen son’s hopes for a new sister are tangled in erotic confusion. While Anastasia declares this passionate young man to be the one to soothe her heart, he instead lusts for another, daydreaming about a distant Ice Queen. He sees her in his dreams, exquisite loveliness, fire-engine lipstick and tough leather, and when she says another kiss will kill him, it doesn’t stop the boy from leaning in.

Sleep beckons, as per the original story, but as she slumbers for 100 years (to wake when she has grown into a woman), her dream quest becomes to return to the arms of her teen male lover. He is the first that she’s known that isn’t a boy, but carries a similar sexual curiosity. It’s queasy when broken down to its essence, naturally, as all sexual longings can be, with this girl’s thorny, libido-driven desire to become a woman. The revelations that steer her to adulthood, and the connections she develops between the dream world and her future life, take her to surprising places that would make Walt Disney blush.

Moreso than “Bluebeard,” “The Sleeping Beauty” takes these very story beats from the original source and expands and experiments with them, finding their roots in class and social conflict, connecting a libidinous attitude with an anti-materialism, the class lines specifically drawn between the lustful (the lower class) and the chaste (employees, royalty). While “Bluebeard” utilized a fascinating, parallel framing device, “The Sleeping Beauty” is an imaginatively immersive experience, fully embracing its fantasy roots and, with a decidedly lower budget, carrying more rich, complex imagination than even Peter Jackson’s Tolkien fantasies, and most assuredly the multiple "Snow White" adaptations coming in the next couple of years. [A]

This article is related to: Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates