You won’t see a bewitched princess, rosy-cheeked and slumbering away in a castle to await her prince in Julia Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Instead, Leigh’s chilling arthouse film presents the heroine as Lucy (Emily Browning), a college student strapped for cash. Lucy works a variety of odd jobs, one of which requires — slightly like the fable — that she be put to sleep. Except that Lucy is willingly drugged for a private erotic club, and those wealthy, geriatric men aren’t climbing into her bed to give her true love’s kiss.
In her debut film, Australian novelist/director Julia Leigh delivers an original, cryptic vision that’s far removed from fairy tales told by the likes of the Brothers Grimm or Disney. Shot in a gorgeous palette of sea greens and blues awash in cold light, the film is pervasively clinical as it follows Lucy around her random occupations. There is little background explanation as Lucy works at a cafe, makes copies at an office, subjects herself to invasive medical experiments and does some freelance prostitution at a bar. She is mostly alone and detached, apart from when she visits a depressed recluse named Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), who enjoys his cereal doused in vodka. Such odd details sometimes come across as black comedy, but are brief respites from the largely bleak and opaque events of Lucy’s life.
There are lots of enigmas to pick apart in this story, and one of the most intriguing is Lucy herself. Emily Browning, endowed with alabaster skin and thick, strawberry blonde locks, is an ethereal presence who holds together the film’s exceedingly slow pacing. While Browning starred in the recent action film “Sucker Punch,” one only needs to see the children’s film “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” to see that she was luminous onscreen even as a teenager. In “Sleeping Beauty,” Browning’s blank-faced passivity breaks into raw emotion in rare moments, giving the film’s almost too cryptic plot an absorbing center.
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Image: San Francisco Film Society/Courtesy
Deanne Chen/Staff WriterSource: dailycal.org