Sunday, January 30, 2011

Catherine Breillat Awakens a Beautiful Sleeping Lesbian in The Sleeping Beauty

Catherine Breillat's most recent film The Sleeping Beauty / La Belle Endormie (2010) is the kind of lush exploration of the burgeoning sexuality of a young woman that audiences expect from her after her more than 30 years of delivering such works. This time, that sexuality is decidedly not heterosexual.
The Sleeping Beauty wakes and discovers that she is a lesbian.

Breillat's handling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is reminiscent of Angela Carter's deft reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, as it was adapted by Neil Jordan into the film The Company of Wolves (1984). She stays close enough to the original, but opens up the gendered nature of the cautionary tale.
The witch sisters modifying the curse so she will sleep rather than die.

In this case, a witch curses the new born princess Anastasia to an early death. The witch's three sisters modify the curse so that she sleeps for 100 years. When she wakes up she will have aged only 10 years, and will have missed her adolescence because 'childhood takes too long.' The bulk of the film takes place while Anastasia is having one hundred years worth of dreams, and thus the narrative has a bizarre dream logic that weaves in and out of landscapes and defies conventional causation.
If you had to sleep for 100 years, you'd want gold pillows and a big book too.
In her dreams she meets a young Gypsy girl who is as spirited as she is. Years later, after Anastasia has woken up, she meets an eerily similar looking girl who is her age. They make love. It's Anastasia's first time. Afterward they engage in sweet pillow talk while the sun streams in. They joke about breasts: Anastasia remarks that she used to wish she would never grow them, but now she wishes they were larger. They giggle together and eventually realize that there is some kind of supernatural connection between them. Not only did they meet as children in Anastasia's dreams, they have met again in her waking life. And the girl proves she is the same woman by producing a belonging of Anastasia's that she stole from her in her dreams when they were children.
Young friends dreaming through their adolescence.
While Anastasia was dreaming she also befriended a boy named Peter. He lacks the dimension bending powers of her female friend and so, upon waking she meets his great-grandson. They also have sex, but she cries through it. Immediately afterward she lies with her face in her bed and refuses to turn toward or answer him.
Unable and unwilling to move after sex with a man.
Later she meets with him again, and this time she is filled with anger and little patience. Unfortunately, the film does not end with the two women walking hand and hand. In the final moments of the film Anastasia is alone. The lesbian subtext is somewhat incomplete. If there was a sequel to this film, I hope that in it there would be some version of happily ever after. Perhaps after Anastasia discovers that she is a lesbian, she would find a wonderful partner. The women would, possibly, buy a house together and maybe even have babies. Peter's great-grandson could resurface, but she would have no carnal interest in him.
Actresses Carla Besainou and Julia Artamonov did a lot of lying down in the lead role of The Sleeping Beauty. This is the same bed that we see in the love scenes, but here it is covered in dust.
The strength of this film is in Breillat's incredible imagery. Her ability to communicate the nuances of female sexuality, especially during a time when a woman is first figuring it out for herself. Her explorations began with A Real Young Girl in 1978 and have continued to the present. And now, as she takes on iconic and mythic figures there are some pitfalls. Since this is her second foray into fairy tales and she is working on a third, I would beg her to clearly differentiate between iconic characters and stereotypical characteristics. The 'Gypsy Thief' is a worn-out and racist image that I would rather have not seen in this film, even though she did use the theft as a romantic device that pushed the narrative forward. There is also a nod to the Geisha trope that could easily be removed from the film while maintaining the integrity of the story.
The iconic evil witch cursing a baby
The Sleeping Beauty has not been released yet, so I couldn't find an english language trailer online. I did find this french language trailer/interview that gives you a sense of Catherine Breillat indominable brilliance. Watch all of her films. But don't do it with people you are shy around. She has often been accused of obscenity, but her work has never been successfully censored. She is not gratuitously explicit, but she deals with delicate subjects. Breillat could make the sun blush and keep coming back for more.


  1. This film sounds great, and looks visually stunning! The images you selected remind me of beautiful paintings.

    I'm looking forward to getting to see this!