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Julia Leigh’s Sexually Charged SLEEPING BEAUTY Creates Controversy: Cannes 2011

Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty
Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty

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.

Emily Browning has received praise for her performance as the sleeping sex worker, but whether that’ll translate into critics’ awards later this year and early next year is debatable. Film critics’ groups might go for that sort of daring performance, but at the more conservative, more populist Oscars her chances seem pretty slim at this stage. In any case, Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have a set US release date as yet.

It is technically elegant, with vehemence and control, though often preposterous, with the imagined classiness of high-end prostitution and art-porn cliches of secret sexiness in grand chateaux: shades of Eyes Wide Shut. … Leigh aims for the occult ritual of Buñuel and the formal exactitude of Haneke: rigorously framed and composed shots. (Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.)

More tiresome than anything, Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s debut feature, Sleeping Beauty, concerns a self-abasing college student who doesn’t distinguish among her various dead-end jobs, one of which involves being drugged into a near-coma and manhandled by strangers. Leigh’s arty (not to be confused with artistic) treatment of such provocative subject matter derives from her own 2008 Black List-blessed screenplay, though the film’s frustratingly elliptical style and lack of character insight give it a distinctly first-draft feel. (Peter Debruge, Variety.)

The word ’erotic’ has been placed quite irresponsibly in the byline; this isn’t a film trying to promote an erotic agenda, instead director Julia Leigh turns the camera into a lingering voyeur, making the near constant nudity unsettling - at times quietly so, and at times thoroughly disturbing. Browning’s performance is at once commanding, assured and fragile. … [Browning is] a performer who should rightly be in contention for Best Actress come the end of the festival. (Dan Goodswen, Total Film.)

Photo: Cannes Film Festival

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