The Sleeping Beauty is a minor work from French auteur Catherine Breillat who uses the classic fairy tale as a starting point to continue her examination of childhood, adolescence and sexuality from a feminine view. Because of a spell cast at her birth, Anastasia (Carla Besnaïnou) sleeps for 100 years and wakes up a 16-year-old (Julia Artamonov). While dreaming, her childish imagination conjures up a world of fantasy. Male and female romantic interests appear and disappear. At 82 minutes, the characters are thinly drawn, if beautifully photographed and costumed. Her last film, Blue Beard, which also looked at a fairy tale that hinged on deflowering, was essentially well received but suffered from a similar smallness of scale. As a result of the film's slightness, The Sleeping Beauty lacks either the dramatic intensity or the sexual frankness that drew attention to her previous films Fat Girl and The Last Mistress. Sleeping Beauty was made for French television, which accounts for the film's , but the American theatrical release could be helped by Breillat's reputation to draw a small arthouse audience. Marketing targeted at French language institutions could provide favorable returns for theaters hosting this prestige pic.
In a picturesque castle, Anastasia is born. She's watched by the aged and sinister fairy Carabosse (Rosine Favey) who puts an evil spell on the baby girl that at sixteen she'll pierce her hand and die. Three young fairies (Dounia Sichov, Leslie Lipkins, Camille Chalons) are able to moderate the spell so that Anastasia will sleep for a century, waking as a teenager. Anastasia's mother remains oblivious to the fairies as they plot her daughter's destiny. The interplay among the very different fairies is one of the best scenes of the film.
During her long sleep, Anastasia's dreams are full of youthful adventures. Breillat's script gives her heroine a lively storyline with inventive touches like a character bowling with a skull. Beginning as a young tomboy who plays at being a knight, Anastasia will develop romantic interests. She will meet gypsies, albinos, and a man covered in boils; Breillat again imposes the bodily grotesque in this world of emerging female sensuality. At the short running time the characters remain one-dimensional, so that without the probing and provocative nature of Breillat's best films, this Sleeping Beauty indeed lulls us more than it awakens our senses.
Taken in by a woman who has always longed for a daughter, Anastasia's first attraction is to Peter (Kérian Mayan), her adoptive brother. In Lapland, she has a romantic rival in the Snow Queen (Romane Portail) with whom Peter will leave home. Anastasia attempts to free Peter from the Queen's influence—or free him from the grips of desire for her. Waking up, the now teenage Anastasia encounters Johan (David Chausse) and a gypsy girl (Rhizlaine El Cohen) and, with more adult desires, is drawn to both. Missing the creativity of her earlier dreams, the post-awakening scenes become a series of prosaic conversations, lacking in the play and nearly-ecstatic fumbling that seemed so likely when that Beauty was Sleeping.
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Cast: Carla Besnaïnou, Julia Artamonov, Kérian Mayan, David Chausse
Director/Screenwriter: Catherine Breillat
Producer: Jean-Francois Lepetit, Sylvette Frydman
Genre: Fantasy Drama; French-language; subtitled
Running Time: 82 min.
Release Date: July 8 ltd.