Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Sleeping Beauty vs. The Sleeping Beauty
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week, it’s the battle of the lady-directed foreign erotic thrillers with basically the same title: Sleeping Beauty vs. The Sleeping Beauty!
Sleeping Beauty‘s connection to Charles Perrault’s original 17th-century fairy tale, “La Belle au bois dormant,” in which a beautiful princess is cursed to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and sleep deeply for a hundred years, seems like it’s mostly just about the name. This plot draws a lot more from Luis Buñuel classic Belle de Jour: it’s about a beautiful young college student, Lucy (Emily Browning) who decides to take a job as a “sleeping beauty,” a type of high-end prostitution which involves her being drugged and sleeping while patrons pay to do what they want to her. As for The Sleeping Beauty, it hews closer to Perrault’s original text: its frame story is the same, with the addition that viewers have access to the extraordinary dreams that Anastasia, the sleeping princess, experiences during her long slumber. She falls in love, goes on adventures, and meets assorted dwarves and gypsies—and, since it’s a Catherine Breillat film, we can pretty safely assume someone has some kind of sexually traumatic experience. Though we’re sure Breillat provides a twisted new perspective on the old material, it’s been well-trod enough at this point that we’ll give it to Sleeping Beauty for originality. Advantage: Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is the debut from Australian director Julia Leigh, best known as the novelist who wrote The Hunter (also adapted into a film, starring Willem Dafoe). It’s bolstered by a “Presented by” credit from Jane Campion, legendary director of Sweetie, The Piano, and Bright Star, who is quoted in the trailer as calling the film “extraordinary, sensuous, unafraid.” But when it comes to “unafraid” female directors, The Sleeping Beauty‘s Catherine Breillat takes the cake—love her or hate her, it’s impossible to deny the influence of Breillat, who’s directed, among many other films, Romance, Fat Girl, The Last Mistress, and Blue Beard (also based on a Perrault story). Advantage: The Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty stars Emily Browning, and frankly, we’re gratified to see that prestige films are still an option for her even after the disastrous Sucker Punch. (Here’s hoping the film’s actually good, and it’s not a Megan Fox-in-Passion Play kind of situation.) She’s already a fairly big name, and her star’s on the rise; plus, she happens to look amazing in this trailer. In the role of prim, aristocratic madam (which seems to adhere pretty closely to the standard set by Geneviève Page in Belle de Jour) is Rachael Blake (Perfect Strangers), who certainly looks the part. The Sleeping Beauty is filled with, if we’re being honest, a bunch of French people we’ve never seen before. We were going to give it points for somehow managing to coax Penn Badgley into learning French for a role, but on closer inspection, that hunk with the Dan Humphrey cheekbones at 0:33 is just some Frenchie named David Chausse. Advantage: Sleeping Beauty
This is tough! As we said, Emily Browning looks basically perfect in the movie, and the lingerie in that salon scene (around 1:00) is pretty sexy—again, it seems like it’s being consciously modeled on Belle de Jour, which is a standard-bearer for unsettling eroticism. But one of the more interesting things about Belle de Jour is that Deneuve’s character may find empowerment in her work. The idea of Lucy deeply sleeping while men have their ways with her is not sexy at all, what with the whole lack-of-consent thing; and the brief shot of one of Lucy’s co-workers stumbling, injured, to a car (0:30) doesn’t seem to bode well. The sexual adventures in The Sleeping Beauty seem, for the most part, to be mutually enjoyable—or at least mutually conscious. Plus, Mick LaSalle said a bunch of stuff about how it was “Boldly sexual” and “Sometimes erotic”! Hey, sometimes erotic! All right! (He also said it was “Sometimes repellent,” but again—it’s Breillat we’re dealing with. We’ll take what we can get.) Advantage: The Sleeping Beauty
There is definitely some weird stuff happening in both of these movies! In Sleeping Beauty, we’re especially intrigued and confused by the scene at 1:07 in which a knee-socked Browning slowly opens her hand and a bunch of cranberries fall out of it. What?! Also, what’s up with the shot right afterward, where she seems to be doing some ecstatic skinny-dipping? Why, at 0:41, does she set fire to a dollar bill? What is that doctor putting in her mouth in the creepy solid-white lab at 0:54? It’s all plenty strange—but not as strange, alas, as pretty much anything in The Sleeping Beauty‘s trailer. Our favorite is the white dove pulled directly out of a well (what?!) at 0:24, but there’s so much more: the albino tea service; all the children in pink kimonos just hanging out while the leads kiss; the kid in the furs riding a deer towards a, like, postmodern metal sculpture in the snow; the bee in the child’s hand. What is this movie even about?! Advantage: The Sleeping Beauty
In the end, there just may not be enough in Sleeping Beauty to sustain our attention; while the movie looks incredibly stylish and we’ll be the first to admit we’re a sucker for a good Deneuve homage, we’re also a little afraid, based on how relatively subdued the trailer is, that Browning won’t be the only one it puts to sleep. As for The Sleeping Beauty, we can’t say we’re huge Breillat fans, but even we must admit her films are consistently shocking and challenging. There’s not enough of that at the movies; and it’s why we’ll see this one. The Winner: The Sleeping Beauty