Following her previous film, BLUEBEARD, Catherine Breillat revisits the fairy-tale world with her latest film, THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. She twists strands of various fairy-tales into a whimsical, go-where-it-may story of a little girl fearlessly discovering love, becoming a teenager, and exploring her sexuality.
We start in an eighteenth century middle-European castle, with Princess Anastasia cursed in the cradle by a cackling witch to prick her finger and die. So far, so conventional. But the three good witches give her a new escape from her fate - Anastasia will fall asleep for a hundred years but she will do so at age 6 and awaken at 16, and while asleep she will dream marvellous adventures, because "nothing happens when you're a child". The movie thus sets up childhood as a period of latency and boredom until puberty awakens us to our sexuality. The first act of the film introduces us to Anastasia as six-year old fearsome child, who dreams of being a knight, hates frou-frou ballerina dresses, and brooks no opposition. Carla Besainou is absolutely charming in this role. As Anastasia falls asleep we move into Act Two. She journeys through a peasant world that takes on aspects of the story of the Ice Queen and of Alice in Wonderland and falls in love with a little boy called Peter. Once again, it is Carla Besainou's personality that captivates. In Act Three, Anastasia wakes up as a sixteen-year old girl, wearing a Victorian frock, but in present day France. She is courted by a teenage boy and emerges as a liberated young French girl with short hair and a short dress.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY isn't as good as it should be. Sure, Catherine Breillat has imagination, and a willingness to put female emotion at the centre of the film, but where's the visual wonder of PAN'S LABRYNTH or the fluidity and surreality of Sally Potter's ORLANDO? And, most of all, where is the willingness to truly explore the danger and subversion at the heart of all fairy tales that we find in Neil Jordan's THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. Catherine Breillat's film simply isn't up to their high level in terms of the intellectual content or the visual style. It's fun as far as it goes, but essentially just a bit of low-budget whimsical fluff. There is, after all, a fine line between go-where-you-will whimsy and plain lack of discipline.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY played Venice and Toronto 2010. It has no commercial release date.
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