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SLEEPING BEAUTY (director/writer: Julia Leigh; cinematographer: Geoffrey Simpson; editor: Nick Meyers; music: Ben Frost; cast: Emily Browning (Lucy), Rachael Blake (Clara), Ewen Leslie (Birdmann), Peter Carroll (Man 1), Chris Haywood (Man 2); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jessica Brentnall; IFC Films; 2011-Australia)
“Wallows in the mud as a sicko exploitation pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This critically acclaimed Australian film by a Jane Campion approved novelist turned writer and director, Julia Leigh, wallows in the mud as a sicko exploitation pic, one that is revolting and has little to say about feminist issues it pretends to be concerned about. I found the filmmaker’s arty treatment of an impoverished dullard college coed, Lucy (Emily Browning, former child actress), finding a supplemental job to her daytime jobs as a guinea pig for test tube experiments in medical research and a tedious photocopier office job by taking on nighttime exploitation work through answering her college newspaper ad, whereby she is paid handsomely to be drugged into being comatose overnight in a country mansion brothel run by the regal businesslike madame Clara (Rachael Blake). The oily old men clients, with sexual liabilities, sleep with her corpse-like body and roughly, for the most part, fondle her, but according to brothel rules can’t penetrate her. Lucy goes human by showing affection for her platonic dying alcoholic friend Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), whom she regularly visits and gives him needed cuddles.

It was baffling to see where the film-maker was going with such a degrading and tiresome premise. The child actress should hold out for better parts, because being in films like this one and her prior Sucker Punch, could be career closers. It was hard to care about Lucy, as she’s abrasive, flighty and poorly sketched. I have no idea what makes her take such a risky job, and when she asks what goes on while she sleeps the malevolent madame tells her she can’t know because the clients would fear blackmail. The low-concept movie might have seemed to have possibilities as a working idea, but as a film it doesn’t have any juice to justify its ugliness. Though I must say some critics have compared it to Luis Buñuel’s ‘Belle de Jour’ (1967), something I don’t see. But if you get past how perverse and tiresome it is, I suppose you give it credit for trying to offer more than cheap thrills, But I just can’t figure out what that allegorical more is.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”