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The Sleeping Beauty


France reclaims a fairy tale to depict a girl’s erotic awakening.

Rod Lott October 25th, 2011

Anyone who thinks the current craze of rebooting fairy tales (from film’s “Red Riding Hood” to TV’s “Once Upon a Time”) is “edgy,” I’d like to sit them down in front of Catherine Breillat’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” Now that's edgy.

thesleepingbeauty
It’s also schizophrenic and messy, but that’s beside the point.

In the French film (if you saw “French” and immediately thought, “nudity,” thumbs up), a newborn princess named Anastasia is cursed by the fairy (witch?) Carabosse (Rosine Favey, “Frontier(s)”) to die when she hits her sweet 16, "her hand pierced by a yew spindle."

Meanwhile, three good fairies in the room use all their powers to change Anastasia’s destiny. She won’t die — she’ll just fall asleep for 100 years. And have a dream life. And then wake up at the age of 16. Got that? It doesn’t matter. Breillat is more about lovely images than lucidity.

And so young Anastasia (newcomer Carla Besnaïnou) loves her alarm clocks and her dictionaries, and harbors an imagination that leans toward the mythological as she travels by train from one quirky character to another. For example, she bowls with bones alongside an ogre covered in boils, immediately after proclaiming, "I don't speak to people covered in boils!" She meets the Snow Queen (Romane Portail), who is decked out like sex incarnate. She choo-choos her way to a midget station agent (not Peter Dinklage reprising his role as “The Station Agent”). She befriends two creepy albino children. She traverses the snowy countryside on a reindeer.

Then Anastasia wakes up as a teen (Julia Artamonov), experiments with a girl and is plowed by a boy, all in a third act that Hans Christian Andersen certainly didn’t have in mind when he penned the original. But sexuality is a staple of Breillat’s work, which is always daring if not always delightful. Compared to the subject matter of her previous films, “The Sleeping Beauty” is fairly tame — for “can’t unsee that” type of stuff, consult 1976’s “A Real Young Girl.”

Not to be confused with the current Emily Browning film of the same name, this made-for-TV effort is recommended only for foreign-film cineastes interested in the imagery of it all, because it could be argued the plot meanders. Watching her very personal, very adult interpretation of a classic children’s story can be oddly fascinating, even if it you find it a narrative failure. —Rod Lott

 
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