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Sleeping Beauty
The feel-up film of the season

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Cash-strapped Australian student Lucy (Browning) begins working in the sex industry, graduating from waitressing in lingerie to submitting to men while drugged and asleep. Mysterious madam Clara (Blake) calls the shots.

Sleeping Beauty
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When Mia Wasikowska dropped out of the lead role in Sleeping Beauty to film Jane Eyre, she may have been doing fellow Aussie Emily Browning a favour. Directed by newcomer Julia Leigh but presented by the iconic Jane Campion, this is an edgy, attention-grabbing drama the Sucker Punch actress handles admirably, even though her character rarely says a word. The story begins with mild vicarious thrills: Lucy (Browning) is plucked from her pokey flatshare, chauffeured to opulent mansions and paid handsomely just to waitress in skimpy designer gear. But we know something more disturbing awaits — not just from the title but from the suspenseful score, the sparse dialogue and the creepy composure of her elegant employer, Clara (Rachael Blake). Clad in figure-hugging power dresses and pouring drugged tea like an aristocrat, Clara is a femme fatale with a difference. She’s not seducing a man but recruiting a young woman: one who seems oddly okay with the idea of being drugged and touched up by dirty old men.

It’s here — if not before — that some audiences will turn up their noses in distaste. But if you can handle the creepiness it’s a poignant vision of fading male sexuality. These clients are mourning their own lost youth and virility, which fills some with anger and others sadness. Lucy, meanwhile, is strangely compliant. Are we supposed to believe that she enjoys selling her body? That being drugged is a convenient escape from responsibility? Or that this is her way of rebelling, of asserting a kind of power? Julia Leigh’s bold film offers no easy answers, leaving us to muse on Lucy’s motivations and the ethics of paying and being paid for a kinky sexual encounter.

It’s a mistake to call Sleeping Beauty “erotic” in a traditional sense — its view of sex is quite depressing. What is sensual is the patient camerawork that lingers on the beauty of everything it touches, from fabrics to faces — not least Browning’s, whose soulful eyes lend weight and allure to her character when the script holds back.

Narratively, this isn’t perfect: there’s a confusing subplot and some will find its cryptic style pretentious. But when it’s in its stride, it’s mesmerising. Those prepared to submit to Sleeping Beauty’s hypnotic flow will readily forgive its flaws.

This will divide audiences as much as The Tree Of Life, but it’s a brave and beautiful calling card for both filmmaker and star. Drink it up, sit back and think of a very different Australia.

Reviewed by Anna Smith

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Sleeping Beauty
Empire Star Rating

Haunting but unsatisfying

Sleeping Beauty can easily be dismissed as art-house pretentiousness, and with good reason, but to be fair it also boasts an interesting premise and strong central performance from Emily Browning. However it doesn't really go anywhere , the pace is very slow, and it asks more questions than it gives any answers (the ending especially). Flawed but occassionally interesting, mostly due to Browning's performance. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Caster at 13:50, 16 June 2012 | Report This Post

Slightly Disappointing

Starts off great, with a consistently solid performance by Emily Browning, but around about half way through the film seems to feel....empty. A few too many mysterious metaphorical scenes which do not pay off in the long run. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nate_001 at 09:14, 03 April 2012 | Report This Post


...well they certainly got the sleeping part right. I watched this blasted film on FF last night and can honestly say that I didn't feel as though I'd missed a bloody thing. As a viewing experience, I can only describe it as a stultyfingly, boring exercise in torpid , slow burning cinematic narcolepsy. For voyeurs and fans of gratuitous, pre-pubescent school girl nudity only.... 1 STAR..... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:42, 01 March 2012 | Report This Post

Pretty good

It's weird, but not boring. Empire asks if we're supposed to believe she enjoys selling her body. It never crossed my mind that she likes it. To me it seems like she's emotionally scarred and doesn't really care what pain she causes to herself. Whether it's rent trouble or being sexually exploited. One thing I thought was weird was implying that she became a prostitute because of money troubles. She doesn't seem to care that she's suddenly making good money. She's also doesn't seem to ca... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by errol777 at 23:44, 25 February 2012 | Report This Post

A load of self-indulgent crap. It's boring and just weird, I couldn't even make it all the way through. The saving grace is Emily Browning, who puts in a good performance, just in the wrong film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 23:47, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

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