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New Release Review - Sleeping Beauty


Directed by: Julia Leigh
Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie

Leigh's highly impressive debut tells the story of Browning, a young student who takes a job where rich elderly men pay to share a bed with her naked sleeping body.
On the outset it may sound like a dark concept but Leigh has fashioned it into a refreshingly liberal take on the sex industry.
If there's a villain in this story it's Browning herself. It's implied that she had a manipulative past and treated people like objects, leading to an ambiguous incident which lead to a male friend becoming an alcoholic. She pays him daily visits and sleeps in his arms yet always has to face away from him, shedding tears of guilt. It's this guilt that leads her into a line of work where she herself is objectified and manipulated. She's not in it for the money as in one scene she sets a hundred dollar bill on fire, just to watch it burn. To force herself to continue in her newfound job she rents a ridiculously expensive apartment which she doesn't even furnish with curtains. Hers is a penance she must abide with.
I could be wrong but I believe Australia has some very liberal laws regarding prostitution and there's certainly none of the demonising of the trade you would get in an American film for example. Her clients aren't allowed indulge in penetration and her presence is more therapeutic than mere sexual gratification. One of the elderly men tragically lost his wife at a very young age. Unable to allow himself sexual relations with a woman since, he pays for Browning's services simply to evoke the memory of sleeping next to his wife's young body.
Australian film-makers seem to have a deeply engrained sense of what makes cinema work. Their film industry only really began in the seventies but they took to it with relish. Maybe it's the lack of the burden of a literary or theatrical history, something which has blighted the film industry of Britain and most certainly my native country Ireland. A badly made Aussie film is a rare thing indeed, and this is incredibly well crafted. The shot composition is some of the most beautiful you'll see outside of a Kubrick film and Leigh has a great sense of colour, contrasting the warmth of the interiors of the brothel with the cold harshness of Browning's other so-called normal jobs. The fact that Leigh is a novelist making her first foray into film makes this debut all the more impressive. We have ourselves an exciting new talent and I look forward to her future work.
8/10
Sleeping Beauty (2011) on IMDb 5.3/10

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