The Sleeping Beauty
(La Belle Endormie)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Screened at London Film Festival
27th October 2010
I have two relevant confessions to make before you can make a decent decision as to whether to read the rest of this quite short review of the new Catherine Breillat movie.
Confession Number One: I have only ever seen one other Catherine Breillat movie and that was Anatomy of Hell... which was quite deliberate in it’s provocative nature (I get the feeling that this is normal with her work) and I remember coming away from the cinema at the time thinking... “Yeah, that was okay. Nothing special. I’d possibly watch it again some day.”
Confession Number Two: I was tired on the Wednesday afternoon when I went down to the National Film Theatre to watch this movie. I knew what I would be like and, since I was seeing it with a friend, I had him on rib-poking duty should I fail to be agog at Breillat’s movie. Sure enough, although I didn’t spend the entire movie (or probably any of it) asleep, I did manage to catch myself about 20 times when my head was dropping to contemplate my belly... I’d normally blame myself for this but this was a movie which had a few sequences of French Female Nudity (FFN) and, because of the fact that I was still catching myself nodding off during sequences of such scientific/ educational interest, I’d say on this occasion I’d have to blame the movie for not holding my attention.
Ok then, if you’re still with me...
Catherine Breillat’s new movie plays out as a very low-key, almost surrealist road movie. It’s just the kind of movie I would have gone out of my way to be disappointed by back in my College days in the 1990s and it’s a bit like watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando and Lis but dulled down quite a bit and then cross-pollinated with Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams... which, on reflection of that comparison, sounds fantastic but, I assure you, it’s not as great as I’ve inadvertently made it sound.
The film deals with the fallout of three sisters who temper down a witches death curse for a child so that she only sleeps for a hundred years instead when she reaches a certain age (think it was nine years old). When she falls under the spell the audience then bears witness to an abbreviated form of her 100 year dream life. After winning a game and the right to wander beyond the remit of her dream’s gatekeeper (at the risk of losing her head for good should she fail the game) she enters her dream scape and stays for a while with an old woman and her son. Enough time passes for her to make good friends with the son until one day he is put under the spell of The Ice Queen and leaves. Our heroine searches for him through encounters with dwarves and so on until we find ourselves in a contemporary period setting with a grown up woman who has presumably woken up. After a brief lesbian encounter she then has a troubled relationship with the object of her dream pursuit.... they quarrel... they make up. The end.
I have to say that there was probably a wealth of allegory in this film that I’m leaving out here... I was just too tired to catch it. I think Breillat probably, as a well respected artist, got most of what she wanted to get up on screen there and I think I can probably appreciate the tone she was going for... but it just wasn’t for me this time around.
The photography was beautiful and some of the writing was witty in places and brought the odd smile... but probably not something I’d have the time to re-evaluate anytime soon. Even though I know I probably should, given the less than ideal conditions under which I watched it (and when I say that I mean the less than ideal condition I was in...). Maybe my expectations at seeing something French and surreal and with the added proposition, given the historic tendencies of said director, of possibly having added sexiness to it were never going to be fair to the finished product.
Or maybe it was just a little bit dull and confused and kind of lost it’s way... although saying that, I can’t imagine someone with Breillat’s uncompromising reputation being anything other than thorough in the way in which her initial intent is brought to the screen.
I can’t exactly recommend this film too much but I must point out that, if it is a failure (and I’m not saying it is) then it’s certainly an interesting failure and, as is often the case with these kind of movies, a lot more interesting than 95% of the English language product playing at any cineplex at any one time. I think a lot of people are going to be on-the-fence about this one.
So maybe if you’ve got nothing better to do... and this movie actually gets a cinema release over here at some point... then this movie might be the perfect way to while away a slow Saturday afternoon.
Of course, your Saturday afternoons might not get quite as dull as some of mine. ;-)