VIFF 2010 Review: The Sleeping Beauty

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The Sleeping Beauty

AAnd so continues my love/hate relationship with Catherine Breillat. Two years ago I had a bad reaction to her period piece The Last Mistress, a film I have since come to appreciate even though it’s still not one of my Breillat favourites. Last year, she surprised everyone, myself included, with Bluebeard (review). An adaptation of the classic children’s story with a sexual twist hidden among its folds, I was thrilled to genuinely love the film from the moment the credits rolled (an unusual reaction to Breillat) so when it was announced that for her follow-up she would be returning to the reworking of yet another children’s favourite fairy tale, I was excited.

The Sleeping Beauty is a perfect starting point for Breillat as the story provides more than ample material for sexual exploration but I can’t say I fully understand Breillat’s adaptation of the material. She begins with Anastasia, the young princess who, when she pricks her finger at the age of six, falls asleep for 100 years and wakes up looking like she’s 16. Why 16? The fairy explains that nothing happens when you’re a kid but at 16, things start to get interesting. When she falls asleep, Anastasia has a dream, one full of beauty and oddity but one that seems of no importance other than to mark Anastasia as a self assured girl with a clear idea of what she wants.

As her dream fades, we see Anastasia 100 years later, waking up in modern France, awakened by a kiss from prince charming who appears to just want to get into her pants (or her dress as the case may be). It’s here that Breillat’s film picks up steam, when she tackles issues or love, romance and women’s wants and needs. One could make an argument that Anastasia’s 100 year long dream is an extension of what youth is like for girls who are coddled and largely unable to make their own decisions but who come alive at 16, sexually curious but unprepared for how that sexuality affects relationships. I almost want to buy into that argument but the truth remains that I was mostly bored through the screening, uninterested in what was going on until Anastasia’s awakening.

Though not a complete miss and still very true to Breillat’s previous films, The Sleeping Beauty is a little too loose, a film which succeeds in making its point but does so at the cost of entertainment.

See VIFF screening schedule for show times.