Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

If I hadn't sat through 2/3 of Aqui Me Quedo, I would have no hesitation in describing Sleeping Beauty as the worst movie I've seen so far this year. And relative to budget and intellectual aspirations it almost certainly is.

Before I really get stuck in however, let's just cast our minds back to the source material such as House of The Sleeping Beauties by Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata. From a nation that has staked a realistic claim to being the mecca of all things outrageously pervy, there's perhaps a surprisingly elegaic subtlety to his esoteric tale of lost potency. It has twice inspired Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez to explore similar scenarios, most notably in his last novel Memorias de Mis Putas Tristes, but also in the short story in which he locates himself next to a beautiful sleeping girl on a long haul flight. (The debt to Kawabata is directly acknowledged when Gabo remarks that House of Sleeping Beauties is his chosen reading material for the journey.)

Non-Nobel Prize winning author and first time film director Julia Leigh obviously thought it would be illuminating to view this conceit from the sleeper's perspective. Its origins are acknowledged obliquely via a load of bonsai trees in the background and other Japanese interior touches, yet it is movies like Kubrick's last masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut and the guilty pleasure that is Hostel, that more openly spring to mind as influences.

The result is some sort of boorish Australian pastiche of European art house cinema from the mid part of the last century. Leigh appears to have scripted her characters so that they act just short of what we would expect of human beings made of flesh and blood. All the excrutiating underlying emotional currents present in the novella have been purged, because for this director the concept and its ramifications are far more important than the individuals encapsulated by it. During the scene in which one of the old geezers delivers a po-faced monologue about a short story by Julio Cortázar before climbing into bed with 'Sara', the fourth wall broke down, and so did we, into fits of hysterics. Who needs soporific drugs when you have these guys around?

Now Eyes Wide Shut also divided critics, attracted accusation of art porn, and is not without its flaws (most notably Kidman and Cruise). But other than the changes in time and location, Kubrick was far more faithful to Schnitzler's vision than he was to say Stephen King's in The Shining. Might one suggest that this was because Kubrick knew himself to be a superior artist to King, but perhaps not to Schnitzler?

Anyway, my own view on this matter would be that whilst it is perfectly OK to add flesh-eating zombies to Jane Austen classics, it would not be a recommended career move for any budding female author to re-write the works of Hemingway as a critique of masculine power relations. In short, if there's any chance that an author might have been better than you are, resist the temptation to steal his or her basic idea and rejig it to suit your own concerns.

There's really nothing more unedifying to behold in art than mediocrity affecting a painstaking pose of profundity.


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