Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is a 21st Century Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai  du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Chantal Akermann’s l975 work, which dealt with the quotidian existence of a prostitute, could be called feminist in the same way that Leigh’s work is—both films turn the female body into a commodity. The fact that Jane Campion the director of The Piano is the producer of Sleeping Beauty would seem to be significant, though the hierarchical universe Leigh’s movie portrays is a far darker view of the existence of at least one woman. There are also shades of Salo, The Story of O, and Genet’s The Balcony at work in the movie. The story takes a university student named Lucy (Emily Browning) from her stultifying existence doing office work, waitressing and offering her body up for scientific experiments to a chateau where she is the subject of another set of experiments or shall we say examinations by a succession of aging men who don’t really need to be told that penetration is forbidden since most if not all are incapable of the act. There are many levels to Leigh’s first feature and many of the set pieces are rich from the point of view of iconography. In his essay on On Racine Roland Barthes deals with the significance of the varying chambers in which the tragedies evolve and here the lush chamber in which Lucy’s self consciously pre-Raphaelite form rests in a drugged stupor allows for a mini disquisition on colonialism, for these impotent old men are definitely representations of a dying order. There’s also a perverse allusion to the crypt in which Juliet lies in the Shakespeare tragedy. The layering of meanings allows the director  to go beyond the limitations of a simple feminist diatribe. Lucy, for instance, moves into a glass tower where none of the windows are covered and everything is revealed while her life as a prostitute is totally shuddered in hiding and secrets. In this version of the myth, by the way, our princess wakes from her sleep screaming. It is interesting to note that another woman director, Catherine Breillat, has recently also offered up her version of Sleeping Beauty.

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