Having sufficiently got over my jealousy of MarBelle’s LFF jaunt and screenings aplenty, we made our way to the Screen on the Green for Julia Leigh’s directorial debut Sleeping Beauty, which is also her first screenplay following a literary career that has included a film adaptation of her novel, The Hunter.
I was unsure of what to expect having only watched the tight lipped trailer. The film tells the story of Lucy (Emily Browning), a university student in Australia who is having a hard time making ends meet. We see her working in a diner and responding to an advert in the student paper on the hunt for more work. Her interview consists of stripping, being inspected for flaws and given the go ahead to work. It transpires that said ‘work’ consists of serving older gentlemen culinary delights whilst scantily clad. This leads to being offered a job as a ‘Sleeping Beauty’; lying in a bed under the influence of extreme sedatives whilst being manhandled by the older gentlemen. There is only one rule (for the clients) – No Penetration.
I’m unsure whether I like this film or not. On the one hand it is visually arresting in so far as all the scenes are shot with Emily Browning glued to the centre of the frame. Other people or objects around her are just that, around her. The film is also extremely slow paced and not a great deal happens. It leaves more questions asked than answered. Why does Lucy not pay her rent when she’s clearly being paid substantial sums of money? Why does she value herself so little that she takes on jobs like these in the first place? However it’s not hard to see why she continues. Like most people, enough is never enough, and she lives beyond her means attaining an increasingly extravagant lifestyle with her ever increasing salary.
I’m not aware of Julia Leigh’s other work but this seems to me to be a commentary on sex work. How it starts seemingly harmlessly enough but quickly degenerates into something more sinister by virtue of someone behind the scenes pushing someone further and further through the attraction of money. The only difference of Sleeping Beauty to existing films in this class is that the normally seedy underworld is a whole lot more refined. Emily Browning is good as Lucy which is lucky as the film is most certainly not script driven. Her performance is cold, which is exactly what Lucy is. She portrays her as both greedy and emotionally bankrupt which offers some explanation as to why she allows herself to behave as she does.
Ultimately, I’m still scratching my head over the film and I think that’s a bad thing. Surely better for a film to provoke a defined reaction of good, bad, disdain or any concrete emotion as opposed to leaving the viewer unsure of exactly what the film wanted to achieve?