Sleeping Beauty: them night shifts can be a right killer

Sleeping Beauty, written and directed by novelist Julia Leigh, is a bit of an odd one and not just because of its unconventional subject matter. The film deals with Lucy, a student who appears willing to consider more or less any type of employment to supplement her income (the first scene shows her participating in an icky medical test that involves a researcher inserting a long plastic tube down her throat), and who has no scruples about hiring herself out to sleazy men in bars if the price is right. Eventually she attracts the attention of the madam of a high-class and particularly pervy bordello where she initially finds herself pouring wine for rich looking diners in her underwear before agreeing to submit to being drugged unconscious and put at the disposal of the clients.

This is an Australian movie but it somehow feels more like the work of a highbrow European auteur like Pasolini or Michael Haneke or Peter Greenaway. The scenes tend to play out in long single shots with a minimum of camera movement and close-ups, and there are deliberate distancing effects that prevent one from empathising with any of the characters. The motivation for Lucy to subject herself to the various abuses she suffers remains murky, and she herself is fairly unlikeable throughout, which means that when we get to a pay-off for her moral compromises it doesn’t really register emotionally, and even the scenes where she’s brutalised by her distinctly strange and seedy customers aren’t anywhere like as disturbing as they would have been had we been more invested in her. It’s a shame, because the film is undeniably well-made, but it seems to fall between stools a bit – it’s too left-field for us to really believe in, and it’s not weird enough to be enjoyably arty.

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