Feb. 01, 2012 - Issue #850: Godot
Art house beauty
The young woman, Lucy (Emily Browning), is a student who takes a number of jobs: lab subject, waitress, office copy-girl then sex-worker. She replies to an ad and finds herself in an amalgam of these other jobs—dressed merely in a white bustier, panties and heels, she offers silver-service to rich guests at a dinner-party while the other, silent servers all look alike in their black, cut-out lingerie. But soon, Lucy's visiting a mansion, taking a drug that puts her into a deep sleep, only for a male client to enter and do what they wish with her, short of penetration. The film's stifled sexual politics—a young woman denying her own desires and fulfilling older men's—seem both non-feminist and critical of a 21st-century pornographic world, where all of us are stuck in our cubicles of detached, narcissistic desire.
Sleeping Beauty is a resolutely arthouse film—it debuted at Cannes last year—drenched in unclear motives, a stylized, hermetic call-girl world, carefully composed and distancing shots, and the kind of chilly sense of fetishizing sex with which David Cronenberg infused Crash. Mostly, it's a hypnotically trancelike mood-experiment, with Lucy embodying what critic Bruno Bettelheim argued was the psychological undertone of the Sleeping Beauty tale—"a girl is depicted as turning inward in her struggle to become herself." Lucy's inwardness can seem too mystifying and remote at times, but her near-sleepwalking state is preferable to the fear and fascination of seeing what will happening to her while unconscious. Her clients' fulfilled fantasies—especially one man's expressed misogyny or another's patience-testing recitation of Austrian author Ingeborg Bachmann—are more disturbing, revealing and self-involved than any sex scene. The languid, wintry tone seeps into every sequence.
Browning, her girlish, snow-white form in sharp contrast to her clients' aging, wrinkly flesh, tautly contains a young woman who's trying to lose herself by drifting deeper into a world that seems all too white and rapaciously rich. Lucy's times with her friend, the slowly dying Birdman (Ewen Leslie), when they play-act the happy couple, are most revealing of her true emotions.
The sex-drive here is a cruise-control towards oblivion, a desire to forget, but its destination is turned back on us in the end. There, Lucy's effort at detachment is conquered by her deeper desire to know other's fantasies, and Leigh questions not only Lucy's but our murderous voyeurism, our desire to cut deeper, beneath the surface, and see it all.
Fri, Feb 3 – Thu, Feb 9
Directed by Julia Leigh
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Directed by: Julia Leigh
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