SFIFF – The Sleeping Beauty (La belle endormie)
Catherine Breillat has become famous as a French director who is not afraid to push the boundaries of sexuality in her films. Often she perches precariously on the awkward time between childhood and adulthood, during those tumulteous years of sexual awakening. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that her latest endeavor re-imagines the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault to, more or less, examine the mind of a young girl developing into a woman.
As far as I’m aware, The Sleeping Beauty was created as a TV movie for France. As a film at a festival as established as SFIFF, it took me a few moments to get over the production values which are considerable lower than some of the other movies here. So much so, I was immediately reminded of the awkwardness and the general failure of Julie Taymor’s film adaptation of The Tempest. We watch as three fairies cast a spell on a young princess named Anastasia. They curse her to sleep for one hundred years, and then to wake up as her sixteen year old self. Anastasia is a tomboy, insisting on climbing trees and having people call her Vladimir. She swears she wants to be a boy. As the fairies force her into her century long snooze, the viewer is actually introduced into a clever device that allows a rare, if all too convenient, look into Anastasia’s mind. We get to see some of the extended dreams she has, which clearly exhibits a growingly complicated relationship towards mother figures, and men in general–at one point she comes across a life-sized man doll which she embraces enthusiastically. It brings to mind Tarsem’s The Fall, another story where we get to see things through the imagination of a little girl. But where Tarsem’s film was rooted in fantasy and beautiful locales, Breillat’s is steadfast in it’s earnest quest to explore budding sexuality. This makes for darker, more familiar journey. And you’ll excuse her for using midgets in a dream sequence.
Eventually Anastasia wakes up in modern day France and falls in love with the first boy she lays eyes on. But her psychological immaturity, her inability to be prepared for the things her body is yearning for is underscored by her difficulty relating to this boy his literally from an entirely different century. It’s the film’s final moments that convinced me Breillat is working her usual magic here. And she’s more on her game than ever. There’s a lot to be chewed on in The Sleeping Beauty if you’re willing.