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Retrospective Film Review: Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty

Monday 19 May 2014

Sleeping Beauty is a breathtaking, hallucinatory directorial debut from writer/director Julia Leigh. The narrative, such as it is, follows Lucy, a student who drifts through her studies and numerous jobs with boundless apathy, pausing only to pick up businessmen for casual sex, and provide a kind of tender, semi-platonic homecare therapy to an ailing alcoholic friend.

When she answers an ad in the student newspaper, she finds a new, darker outlet for her unscrupulous sexual appetite, and one that’s willing to pay to boot. The only catch is, in this particular Kubrickian gentleman’s club, she’s required to surrender to the madam’s potions that render her comatose whilst the clients go about their business. It makes for a troubling, esoteric watch, deliberately cryptic and chock-full of fairy-lore references.

Browning, all but buried under the landslide of abuse for Sucker Punch, here shows proficient and delicate skill as an actor, giving a, yes, muted and understated, but far from hollow performance. Much of the praise must be given for the way in which for once the objectivity and sexualisation of women is shown in such a clinical, referential, and unsalacious manner; this may feel to some like an aimless cop-out, the make-of-it-what-you-will carte blanche of artistic integrity, but actually, through the detachment, the film manages to conjure intelligent, contemplative, sobering drama.

Words: Ash Verjee