BIFF Review: Sleeping BeautySaturday 17, 11.30pm, Liberty Theatre
Australian director Julia Leigh’s debut ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is an odd sort of film.
It has an intriguing premise, is well acted and is very watchable, yet it is strangely unsatisfying.
The movie opens with a beautiful young woman taking part in a procedure in a science lab, where she has to swallow some kind of tubing which makes her gag.
The imagery is stark and, although she is clearly a paid volunteer for an unspecified research project, she’s ultimately at the mercy of the white-coated man feeding the equipment down her throat.
It’s that disturbing mixture of compliance and exploitation involving women and men that permeates the entire film.
We soon see Lucy, played by Emily Browning, in a nightclub setting, snorting drugs and agreeing to sleep with a stranger on the toss of a coin.
She opts to leave the venue immediately to have sex with the older man, though there is no indication she’s aroused or even attracted to him.
As she leaves the bar, she wears the same bored look as when working the menial jobs she does to fund her college studies: cleaning tables in a café, photocopying documents in an office.
The film follows Lucy as she juggles her various moneymaking activities with school, making the occasional visit to an alcoholic friend, Birdmann, played by Ewen Leslie.
He’s the one person she really seems to have a connection with, though the pair do little together except drink vodka and curl up on the couch.
Although Browning’s fine-boned features are a pleasure to watch, nothing really happens in any of the film’s early scenes to drive the plot forward or flesh out Lucy’s character.
We learn that her mother is also an alcoholic a woman who calls her daughter at work to demand her credit card number. But we see nothing more of the relationship, nothing that delves into what makes Lucy tick.
Eventually, in her quest to raise cash, Lucy responds to an advert purportedly for silver service waitresses.
But it’s clear from her interview, where she has to strip down to her underwear and be scrutinised, that she’s about to enter a far murkier world than the catering business.
The real job, as we discover, is one where Lucy has to do nothing but fall into a drug-induced sleep. As she slumbers, entirely naked and utterly submissive, a series of geriatric men pay for the privilege of a night with her.
Although the unusual scenario would appear to give these customers complete power, they are depicted as pathetic creatures, each facing a loss of virility and a lifetime of regrets.
The film turns the viewer into voyeur, watching as the camera lingers over Lucy’s flawless form and the mottled, sagging bodies of those who take advantage of her.
We see what she doesn’t: what happens during those lost hours. But like her, we’re left with a multitude of gaps as the movie abruptly finishes. We know little more about Lucy than we did at the beginning of the film.
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