The Sleeping Beauty
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Opens July 8 at IFC Center
"Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this!" So ranted Living in Oblivion's Peter Dinklage in an obvious jab at David Lynch. Except, of course, Lynch's intuitive surrealism is what makes him a genius.
French art house provocateur Catherine Breillat, on the other hand, probably doesn't deserve the genius label. At her finest she's an intrepid chronicler of pre-adult sexuality; at her worst she's a timid intellectual spicing simplistic pronouncements on bedroom power games with épater les bourgeois leftovers. But whatever the verdict on her career, Breillat's latest, a loose adaptation of Charles Perrault's "The Sleeping Beauty," proves surrealist fantasy beyond her reach.
In Breillat's telling of the legend, the titular princess—here named Anastasia (Carla Besnaïnou)—is put to sleep for a century by a trio of fairies to protect her from the black magic of a cackling witch. Largely comprised of Anastasia's dreamscapes, The Sleeping Beauty throws out everything but the kitsch-en sink—albinos, cripples, giants and gypsies—to ornament its childhood psychodrama. Naturally, a dwarf shows up.
Unlike Lynch, Breillat remains too cerebral to evocatively embrace fancy, a problem that never plagued the sober yet consequently much more dream-like Bluebeard, the predecessor to Beauty in a trilogy of celluloid fairy tales. Much of the cutesy, anachronistic Renaissance-era set design of Beauty (Joy Division grafitti appears in one scene; a diminutive train putters through several others) goes for naught as wooden actors recite clunky dialogue in front of it. Breillat steals clock and coffin-bed imagery from Lucille Hadzihalilovic's Innocence, but leaves behind that film's mystery and layered connotations. At points Anastasia reads the dictionary definition of words like "hermaphrodite" and "myth," not to highlight her entrance into culture so much as to highlight the film's themes and motifs through pure didacticism.
More exasperating is Breillat's conception of pre-adolescence. "In my experience, young girls never want to be married," Breillat explains in the recent issue of Cineaste. "Their first desire is to be." An intriguing, if vague notion, but then why does Anastasia spend the vast majority of her slumber chasing after Peter (Kérian Mayan), the temporary brother figure whisked away to pubescence by a Snow Queen (Romane Portail) straight out of Hans Christian Andersen? Aged only ten years upon awakening in order to demonstrate Beauty's baseless claim that the intervening decade is, for young girls, "boring time," a teenage Anastasia (Julia Artamonov) finds her journey has merely prepared her for romantic disappointment with Johan (David Chausse), Peter's grandson. A lesbian encounter, of course, provides sexual discovery's flipside. Literal-minded and obvious, The Sleeping Beauty is as old-fashioned as the myths it purports to deconstruct.
An uncharacteristically disappointing take on the dreamlife of girls.
Mar 4, 2011