November 30, 2011
Review - " The Sleeping Beauty (La belle endormie) "
(on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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The Sleeping Beauty
(La belle endormie)
Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Carla Besnaïnou, Julia Artamonov, Kerian
Mayan, David Chausse, Luna Charpentier, Rhizlaine El
Cohen, Camille Chalons, Dounia Sichov, and Leslie
Language: French with English Subtitles
I rarely review foreign films, although I do see several
during the course of the year. This one and the 2008
Hors de Prix (Priceless) are rare exceptions.
Let's start by saying that this is most assuredly not a Disney movie and certainly not aimed at a family audience. French
filmmaker Catherine Breillat continues her unique and psychologically, erotically daring deconstruction of classic fairy tales
and the female condition. Breillat's films are obsessed with sexuality, and most of them deal with pure virgins and the
dastardly men who rob them of that virtue. This version of Sleeping beauty opens with the three good fairies, all young and
beautiful, bathing naked in a pool (well two out of three anyway).
Cursed at birth by an evil fairy, Anastasia is destined to prick her finger and die at the age of sixteen. When three feckless
fairy sisters discover this they hatch a plan to alter the curse: rather than die, Anastasia will sleep for 100 years. She might
have been cast asleep for 100 years, but it turns out that Sleeping Beauty had an active dream life. While in slumber,
Anastasia comes of age through a series of vivid dreams, filled with charming princes, dwarves, gypsies and magical
Although French director Catherine Breillat took far more liberties with Charles Perrault’s “Briar Rose” fairy tale than her
previous adaptation of Bluebeard, the Brothers Grimm would surely approve of her dark fantastical variations so strangely
rendered in The Sleeping Beauty, her take on the familiar fable.
The time is indeterminate, but it may be somewhat more modern than the fairy tale’s vaguely medieval traditional setting.
There are still bad witches and good fairies, though.
As per Perrault, Grimm, and Disney, a bitter old crone curses the newborn Anastasia to die on her 16th birthday from a
fatal spindle prick. However, a trio of good fairies (who happen to be suggestively nymph-like in this version) partially
counteract the spell, commuting the death sentence to a century-long slumber.
From here, Breillat lights out into fresh territory, while still heavily borrowing archetypes from across the fairy tale canon.
Anastasia will come of age as she sleeps, aging ten years in one hundred. She will also be a conscious dreamer, actively
participating in the lives of those she meets.
While in her slumber, Princess Anastasia lives a fantastic dream life filled with wonder and magic, disappointments and
delights. Venturing forth in an oddly eclectic costume and ballet shoes, she is taken in by a compassionate woman
(Anne-Lise Kedvès). The woman’s son, Peter (Kerian Mayan) and Anastasia fall for each other. He is quite literally her
dream boy. Ironically, the little princess almost immediately finds happiness when adopted into the rustic home of a single
mother and her adolescent son. However, puberty turns Peter surly. It produces other urges as well, leading her adopted
brother to run away from home with the mysterious Snow Queen.
As Anastasia sets out into her subconscious dreamscape in search of Peter and the Snow Queen, the film segues into a
quest fantasy. Yet, arguably its closest cinematic comparison would be Sally Potter’s “Orlando” in which characters morph
and evolve as they mystically reappear over the ages, tied together by destiny.
When Peter wanders off once hearing about the Snow Queen (a curious Hans Christian Andersen tie-in) from his mother,
Anastasia follows him. Along her way she meets several unique characters, from a sadistic young Indian princess to an
old fortune-teller in a tent. All of them, of course, teach her something and help her grow. In this way, the story mirrors
Alice in Wonderland more than the traditional Sleeping Beauty story.
By making Anastasia’s pursuit of her prince take place entirely in a dream, Breillat cleverly deconstructs the Disney-driven
princess mentality. This becomes all the more clear when she (now played by Julia Artamonov) ends her 100-year
slumber. She awakens to see what both she and we identify as an adult version of Peter (now played by David Chausse).
He tells her his name is Johan, and the two fall sort of in love. The pain and emotional awkwardness of this relationship is
the movie’s greatest achievement.
When she reawakens a fully-formed adolescent, she finds that in real life, happy endings are more elusive than in our
fantasies. Anastasia wakes up in modern day France and falls in love with the first boy she lays eyes on. But her
psychological immaturity and her inability to be prepared for the things her body is yearning for is underscored by her
difficulty relating to this boy. He’s literally from an entirely different century.
Though Breillat maintains a fable-like atmosphere throughout, the film is not intended for children. Anastasia most
definitely grows up, which is a fortunate thing in this film. Carla Besnaïnou is game enough for what must have been a
bewildering production for a youngster, but she is not exactly an electrically engaging child actor. To be fair, Breillat almost
uses her as a prop to be carried away by the sweep of her story.
Breilat throws a terrific wrench in that narrative by having a grown-up version of that Indian princess (played by Rhizlaine
El Cohen) show up and seduce the recently-awakened young princess. These provocative love scenes are aided by the
excellent Artamonov, who gives by far the movie’s best performance.
As Anastasia come of age, Julia Artamonov has the appropriate precocious allure for a Breillat film. In fact, the supporting
cast all look spot-on for the genre, including Rosine Favey’s evil witch, who could have just walked out of a Hammer horror
film, as well as Camille Chalons, Dounia Sichov, and Leslie Lipkins as the decorative fairies.
The Sleeping Beauty is more concerned about what happens when spells are broken, whether it be childhood or a fairy
tale enchantment. Where the film shines is when we are in Princess Anastasia’s early life and her subsequent fever
dream. The imagery here is breathtaking at times. The sequence with the Ice Queen who steals the heart of Anastasia’s
first Prince Charming feels gorgeous and frigid.
A surprisingly challenging film, with a uniquely disconcerting charm, The Sleeping Beauty is certainly recommended (and
Breillat’s fairy tale project in general is well worth keeping up with).
I think it's been several months since I've mentioned "Walking Out of a Movie" in my reviews. This is a gross oversight.
Whether or not you have to "walk out" of a film is an important aspect of the viewing experience. I don't think there has
been a lot of nudity in the main stream movies I've been seeing, or if there has been I haven't taken particular notice of it.
In any case you will most definitely NOT have to walk out of The Sleeping Beauty, as the good fairies and the grown
Anastasia all give us plenty of the beautiful feminine form to feast our eyes on.