In a time when remaking classic fairytales has become something of a trend, it could come quite natural to think of Australian effort Sleeping Beauty (2011) as linked to the homonymous, popular tale by the brothers Grimm. In reality, though, with the fairytale this movie only shares the title. Written and directed by Julia Leigh and starring Emily Browning, Rachael Blake and Ewen Leslie, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Lucy, a young and beautiful college girl who lives quite a mysterious life.
Left to her own devices by her parents and flatmates, Lucy takes on a very unconventional job serving rich men while wearing only lingerie – and soon finds herself involved in a world where sex, fetishes and secrecy intertwine with sadness, loneliness, and the troubles of both hers and her clients’ lives.
Full of symbolism, silences and metaphors, Sleeping Beauty is an arthouse film which, from the very beginning, refuses to provide clear explanations and instead confuses, intrigues, and also bewilders in many occasions. The references to sex and the graphic imagery are recurrent and strong, and many scenes stop just seconds before becoming seriously hard to watch; yet, they are infused with such poetry and a heavy, meaningful atmosphere that you’ll almost feel compelled to keep watching.
In the role of Lucy, Browing does an excellent job of rendering the character and mannerisms of a young woman who is at the same time unfazed and deeply affected by the reality she lives in. Browning is definitely brave and extremely intense – and undoubtedly steals the limelight from all her co-stars, even as they are quite good themselves.
As silences are a major element in this movie, the audience is urged to think, connect the dots and come to their own conclusions; and while this is an admirable intention on Leigh’s part, it is also a weak point in the whole development and perception of the film itself. Mystery and metaphorical imagery are in fact so strongly pushed through right until the end that the audience is left with nothing more than questions and speculations; and ultimately, Sleeping Beauty’s refusal to provide any kind of clear explanation is detrimental rather than interesting, and leaves the viewer frustrated and unpleasantly baffled.