Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh)


Things happened. Mysteries were unraveled. A woman's adventurous desires and curiosities were explored. Yet first-time director Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" felt like nothing has occurred in its entirety. With its sterile cinematography that surprisingly enhances the film's numerous scenes and effectively infuses a certain fascinating spell into its very mood, this visual stagnation that seems to pull "Sleeping Beauty" into the more elitist forays of art house self-indulgence, ironically, has also been its most appealing quality.

With a thematic feel that somehow reminds me of "Belle de Jour" and a bit of "Eyes Wide Shut", this film deeps its fingers into the dark waters of moral decadence, that which involves prostitution, without articulating much explicitly about it. Though it sure shows high-class hedonism brought into the extremes and has initiated Emily Browning's character Lucy into a world of worldly desires and emotional abstractions, Julia Leigh has able to handle all of these heavy-handed subject matters with finesse, therefore highlighting the film's very elemental issue of sexual and psychological adventurism without visually going over-the-top.

With enough reason, I sure did expect this film to be a bit more daring than it actually was, based on its compelling gist, some hearsay, and Emily Browning's intent to flex her indie muscles, which more or less suggests that it's a given that she will delve into nudity. Admittedly, the film sure had its issues, particularly its sudden transitions from one pointless scene to another that really shouts of incoherence. But in many moments, Emily Browning's uninhibitedly strong performance subtly redeems all of these missteps. Of course, it's hard to rescue a film, however great its starring actors or actresses are, from narrative imperfections. Even the characterization of Lucy had its major flaws, specifically the fact that she did the things that she has done in the film without any concrete motivations.

Was it for money? Then why did she burned one during a scene? Is it for carnal pleasures? Then why is she constantly hesitant and unsure of what she's doing? Ultimately, maybe Julia Leigh is too set on molding a very complex character that she has unwittingly brought Lucy into a place with a tad too much questions without clear signs of answering them, let alone some tries to do so. But to redundantly express myself, Emily Browning sure has delivered a stellar performance in this film that completely erases her earlier fiasco in Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch".

Now, to consider another perspective, Maybe Julia Leigh has intentionally painted Lucy's character in an obviously abstract form simply because she wants to convey her female protagonist's boundless alienation, both from her immediate environment and from us, the audience. "Sleeping Beauty" is, after all, a tale of a woman's aimless descent not into some cliched madness, but into a conscious reality of submitting to depravity.

But as deficient as the film may be in terms of its certainty for narrative goals, a scene halfway into the film has stood out the most on how it has perfectly deviated from the film's overall nature of existential aimlessness with its all too vulnerably human voice. It's the scene where this old client, as he gets ready for his 'turn' for the sleeping Lucy, poignantly recounts a short story to the madame, Clara (played by Rachael Blake), that relates to his existence.

He expressed the fact that all his life, he didn't have any 'broken bones' (symbolically presenting his mundane, all too normal and restricted existence) but merely pretended. And now that he's broken down and wearily old, he has regretfully conceded to the fact that they are now, sensing that everything's too late, that time cannot be turned, and it is only from this carnal retreat (in the form of Lucy) that he may find momentary peace.

This sequence really did struck a chord and left a relatively powerful impression within me with its assurance that at least in a film filled with meaningless encounters with sexuality, perversity and whatnot, there's someone who's indeed in the mix not for the utter senselessness of it all but for a tired admittance of defeat. A film that is truly not for everyone, and I mean it.


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