THE audience at the preview of Julia Leigh’s directing debut (she also wrote the screenplay) emerged with puzzled faces and an air of “What the f… was that about?”
Like two jigsaw puzzles in the same box, “Sleeping Beauty” contains pieces that don’t fit.
With admirable strength, Emily Browning plays emotionally and intellectually disturbed Lucy, reading mathematics at Sydney University, volunteering in medical research trials, waitressing.
Answering an ad placed by Clara (Rachael Blake), she finds intermittent but well-paid employment pouring wine at haute-cuisine dinners for ageing, affluent men. Clara, an elegant and stylish bawd, gives Lucy an exotic narcotic to see her through nights with clients restrained by only one rule – no penetration.
Lucy, drugged, nude, a delicate porcelain figurine, takes no physical gratification from her work. Film-goers prepared to persevere with reading “Sleeping Beauty”, a story of erotic disempowerment of characters more to be pitied than despised, lacking clear narrative resolution, may discover merits beyond that initial negative impulse.
Those four stars come from an extended mental review concluding that the film‘s obvious defects overlie difficult themes that demand open-minded, well-informed and unprejudiced examination.