Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 2:26 pm 
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Girl to. . .girl, in 100 years

Breillat's recent films have taken a delightful new turn to the fanciful and the historical, with more eye candy but no loss of her sexy approach to feminism. The Last Mistress brought to delicious erotic life a transitional novel by Jules-Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly that hovers on the verge between 18th-century libertinism and intense romanticism -- and gave Asia Argento one of her best roles. Breillat's version ofBluebeard had a typically feminist bias, but added psychological depth to the Perrault version of the traditional French fairy tale of a serial wife-killer husband and a series of arresting, dreamlike scenes.

That dreaminess may have been what led Breillat to Sleeping Beauty. But Breillat's Sleeping Beauty, actually a blend of Charles Perreult's "Sleeping Beauty" with Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen," lacks the clarity and effectiveness of her Bluebeard and just doesn't quite hang together. Once the heroine falls into her 100-year sleep and begins to dream, the story meanders and there was some visible dozing in the audience which I was at pains not to join.

As the story here goes, an old witch (Rosine Favey) puts a curse on a girl at her birth, dooming her to an early death. Three Fairies (Dounia Sichov, Leslie Lipkins and Camille Chalons) who have been bathing (two of them nude) in a rock pool step in to modify this curse. One of them promieses that instead of actually dying, when her hand is pierced by a thorn as a pouty girl of six (Carla Besnaïnou) she will fall asleep for 100 years. When she wakes up, she will be 16 (Julia Artamonov), since "growing up isn't any fun anyway," and during the long sleep, since that would be boring, another fairy guarantees that she will dream.

Her dreams take her to a series of strange locations, the first of which brings her in touch with Peter (Kerian Mayan), a reedy, gypsyish boy who leaves her behind her, too bad for her because she sees him as a kind of Prince Charming. Unfortunately, Peter is lured away by the Snow Queen (Romane Portail). Anastasia sets off to find the boy she considers part brother, part lover. Later she winds up at a train station where a stuffy dwarf says strangers aren't welcome and she should try to be noticed. Further along in the "Snow Queen" episode Anastasia rides across a snowy waste land on a deer -- a breathtaking couple of shots. When she wakes up, she finds Peter's great grandson, Johan (David Chausse) is waiting for her, though being a lycée student he finds her a bit strange and also has other friends and girlfriends.

All this meanders too much to be compelling or even coherent, and while Besnaïnou is appealing and Artamonov is handsome, Mayan and Chausse, pretty boy and man though they may be, don't come through very convincingly as characters. These may be the rifs of an auteur, but they remain riffs, with the underlying theme not quite emerging.

Not yet released in France, the film has been shown well at festivals -- Vencice, Toronto, London, Vancouver, Montreal and Rotterdam. It was seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, March 3-13, 2011, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance and screened at the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinematek in Brooklyn.

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