THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
(La Belle Endormie)
She returns to fairytale in this adaptation of Charles Perraults Sleeping Beauty (1697). Although the film is as much an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty as it is a melange of elements from other fairytales Diana Rudychenko wanders around in a red cape a la Red Riding Hood, there are dwarfs and various witches, while the story winds in the essence of Hans Christian Andersens The Snow Queen (1845). Deconstructions, parodies and modernisations of fairytales have been popular on cinema screens over the last few years everything from adult works like The Company of Wolves (1984) to Freeway (1996), Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997) and Criminal Lovers (1999) to family intended material such as Hoodwinked! (2005) and Happily NEver After (2006). Just after The Sleeping Beauty, there was a big box-office fad for fairytales reinterpreted as dark adult fantasies with the likes of Red Riding Hood (2011), Mirror Mirror (2012), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) and Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) and tv series Grimm (2011-7) and Once Upon a Time (2011 ).
On the other hand, I felt confused what Catherine Breillat was trying to do with The Sleeping Beauty. While it announces itself as an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, the bulk of the story seems to wander all over the place, taking the young heroine through various picaresque situations. These are crafted with remarkably little rhyme or reason and the film feels like it has no direction during these scenes. There is not the sense that Breillat is deconstructing the fairytale, nor even that she is simply being playful and either spoofing or connecting up various elements of fairytales into a picaresque that takes place in the same world as in works like The 10th Kingdom (2000) or Shrek (2001).
The main other problem with The Sleeping Beauty is that Catherine Breillats direction is too literalistic and prosaic. Fairytale films usually set themselves in fantasy kingdoms and dress the world and the characters with lush detail. Breillat winds in oddly contemporary elements Sleeping Beauty walks by a present-day canal, catches a train, has modern alarm clocks in her bedroom where you are not sure if Breillat is trying to be atemporal, surreal or just wacky. The film feels not so much threadbare as that the production team did their best by borrowing what they could more often this results in things like awkward fitting costumes. When Carla Besnäinou makes her way through the palace as it is frozen in time, we can clearly see the bodies that are supposedly petrified moving it is this lack of care to something as small as reshooting the scene that drags the film down. More to the point, the film fails to let its fantasy fly. It seems only like a prosaic B-budgeted costume drama whereas fairytale adaptations should dance with lightness and capricious fancy. If they take themselves seriously, they should be filled with pure and simple emotions; those that deconstruct should be either dark or come with a sharp modern irony and wit. The previous French venture into fairytale Donkey Skin (1970) was a perfect example of how this should work.
The other thing that disappoints is the surprising lack of Breillats usual interest in female sexuality. One expected that she might have found unexpected depths in the story of Sleeping Beauty and brought out an inherent sexuality maybe in the same way that Neil Jordan did with Little Red Riding Hood in The Company of Wolves or perhaps even have pushed the eroticism to the level of something akin to Walerian Borowczyks The Beast (1975). As it is, the deliberately silly potted telling of Sleeping Beauty in Grimms Fairy Tales for Adults (1970) achieves a far more adult telling of the story than anything here. The sole part of the film where Catherine Breillat finally starts to achieve this is in the final section towards the end where Anastasia wakes from her sleep now a teenager (Julia Artamanov) and there is a delightful scene where Johan starts to seduce her in a tease of undoing the buttons on the back of her dress, before she is tempted to explore things with another girl (Diana Rudychenko). These scenes play out with a sense of erotic tease, at the same time as Catherine Breillat launches in with her familiar questions and meditations about female sexuality. It is here that the film comes to life with exactly what we expect from Breillat. However, the film needed far more in the way of these scenes. The rest of the show is largely tedious.
(Screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival)