One To Watch

Sleeping Beauty (2011) – written and directed by Julia Leigh

Sleeping Beauty: Lucy, a university student with several part-time jobs, joins an exclusive company specialising in fulfilling the desires of elite (and apparently elderly) clients.

If you’ve heard it’s pretentious, don’t be put off – it’s not pretentious, it’s just not your average Hollywood-style drama where everything is neatly tied up for you, bow and all. The performances are brave and the script is a good one – the viewer is kept guessing about pretty much everything – who this girl is, her background, her relationships to other characters and what exactly it is that motivates her. But, whilst this sort of open-ended script can be annoying in some films, it never is in Sleeping Beauty – perhaps because these ‘unexplained’ scenes always seem quite complete in themselves and are never given the unnecessary weight of over-signification which can often drag a film into the steaming pile of pretence. Even the scene which has caused some viewers the most annoyance, where an elderly ‘gent’ is re-telling a story he had read years before – the actor speaks directly to the camera, the first and only time any character does so in the film – even this scene works, drawing the viewer in and making an uncomfortable scenario unexpectedly tender, poetic and thoughtful.

The film did well at Cannes, and it’s easy to see why – it has a distinctly European quality to it. Stylistically, the film is like a half-forgotten (and somewhat perverse) dream, where each scene makes perfect sense in itself, although you’re left musing over where it fits in and what it actually means. This is not a criticism, however. At no point does the film jolt along or feel uncomfortable (other than at times when it is intentionally so). The film has a warm, easy pace and a soft, quiet intimacy, but at the same time a slightly bemused removal from its subject. The juxtaposition works well. First-time director, Julia Leigh (apparently mentored by Jane Campion) is definitely one to watch.

Cert. 18, Australia.