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Cannes Watch: First Reviews of Sleeping Beauty Directed by Julia Leigh

by Melissa Silverstein
May 13, 2011 1:35 AM
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From Sasha Stone on The Wrap:

Much has been made of the supposed sexuality to be plumbed in Australian novelist and first-time auteur Julia Leigh’s "Sleeping Beauty." First, a teaser poster was released tantalizing the Cannes crowd with a shot of Emily Browning’s backside as she stared seductively into the camera. The film, which was the first of the 20 features competing for the Palme d'Or to screen, immediately shot to the top of everyone’s must-see list. The screening was packed, no doubt with many who were expecting to see “a haunting erotic fairy tale,” as the synopsis promised. Read more.

From David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter:

“You will go to sleep; you will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed.” That quote from the Australian feature Sleeping Beauty is part of the job description of an emotionally detached young woman who drifts into high-end prostitution involving no actual sex. Regrettably, it could also describe the experience of watching the movie.

In 1989, Jane Campion’s first feature, Sweetie, was unveiled in the Cannes competition to a largely hostile reception. But when the knee-jerk dismissals subsided, the passionate defenders of that idiosyncratic vision of a dysfunctional family in the Australian suburbs were vindicated, establishing Campion as a distinctive new voice in international filmmaking. Campion’s name appears as a presenter on promotional materials -- though not on the titles -- of Sleeping Beauty, the debut feature from novelist Julia Leigh. But while this psychosexual twaddle will no doubt have its admirers, it seems a long shot to attract a significant following or herald the arrival of a director to watch. Read more.

From Guy Lodge on In Contention:

My vagina is not a temple.” So says terse, inscrutable college student Lucy, her dry conviction belying an edgeless china-doll face, immediately after being told (instructed, even) otherwise by an employer with a less-than-honorable stake in the matter. It’s a loaded line, one that reveals she knows much more than her elders think she does — yet much less than she thinks she does — and it’s one of several moments in “Sleeping Beauty,” Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s unnervingly precise directorial debut, that denude sex of any movie mystique it usually carries. Read more.

From James Rocchi on The Playlist:

Greeted with diffident, muted applause at Cannes—where it was instantly vaulted into must-see territory the second it arrived in competition despite being the debut effort of a first-time director—“Sleeping Beauty” is a film that seduces and repels, that flickers between a come-hither smoldering gaze and dead-eyed passive aggression. This is, in many ways, the kind of film you only get at a major festival, a hothouse flower, beautiful and delicate and yet surprisingly hardy and potentially toxic. At the same time, it’s exactly the kind of film least well-served by being screened at a major film fest, with considered, slow contemplation pushed aside for rushes to judgment as fleet as a tweet. Read more.

From Xan Brooks in The Guardian:

I was less convinced by Sleeping Beauty, Julia Leigh's torpid, affectless wedding of fairytale archetypes with the tenets of high-end prostitution. This stars Emily Browning as Lucy, a pert young student who falls under the spell of a imperious madame-stroke-witch. Lucy's initial duties involve her sashaying about with her nipples on show, providing "silver service" dining to a gathering of wealthy old men, pouring the brandy and getting pawed by the clients. Harmless fun, in other words; the sort of saucy tomfoolery that takes place every night at those official Cannes jury dinners we hear about. Allegedly! Allegedly! Read more.

From Matt Holmes on Obsessed with Film:

Oh dear. One of the most hyped films of the whole 64th Cannes Film festival, Julia’s Leigh’s supposedly shocking and eye-opening Australian film Sleeping Beauty opened with even less than a whimper at yesterday evening’s press screening… playing to absolute silence at the Debussy. You could have literally heard a pin drop when the credits rolled and I don’t think the silence was out of the kind of bewilderment at what was being screened to us that the filmmaker intended. Read more.

From Eric Kohn on IndieWIRE:

In an early scene of Julia Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty,” the proprietor of a high-end prostitution operation orders Lucy (Emily Browning) to strip down to her underpants, at which point the mistress and her assistant aggressively fondle nearly every inch of the young college student’s body. Their hands roam across her trim physique, pausing briefly on the slight remnant of a mole, while Lucy observes their evaluation with a coldly tolerant look. It’s hardly the last time she gets treated like a rag doll in Leigh’s undeniably creepy - if supremely beguiling - sexual thriller about the realization of dark urges. Read more.

From Alex Billington on First Showing:

Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is exactly the kind of film I hate. Made by an amateur Australian novelist-turned-filmmaker named Julia Leigh, who shouldn't be directing and, perhaps, should never direct again. It's bland, boring, tasteless, has a story about as thin as thread, is full of pointless fade outs and lacks more than 10 seconds of music in the entire film (which I cannot stand). I guess the redeeming value, if there was one, is that Aussie actress Emily Browning is naked in nearly every scene. But not even for good reason. A highly anticipated Cannes film and yep, it was awful, and I actually have something to say about it this time. Read more.

From Anna Robinson on Alt Film Guide:

Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty divided critics at the Cannes Film Festival — while reminding some of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Presented by Jane Campion, Sleeping Beauty is the story of a young woman (Sucker Punch's and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events' Emily Browning) whose sex-escort job entails taking drugs, passing out, and having wealthy older men do "things" to her body while she sleeps. Read more.


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