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  Sleeping Beauty Slumberland
Year: 2011
Director: Julia Leigh
Stars: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Peter Carroll, Chris Haywood, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Bridgette Barrett, Hannah Bella Bowden, Les Chantery, Benita Collings, Michael Dorman, Eden Falk, Anni Finsterer, Mirrah Foulkes, James Fraser, Robin Goldsworthy
Genre: Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lucy (Emily Browning) is a student at university who finds she has to supplement her income by taking part-time jobs, something rather important when she's being threatened out of her shared home by one of her flatmates who doesn't think she's pulling her weight. So far she has collected money by subjecting herself to routine medical experiments and working as a waitress, but even though she has an office job as well it doesn't seem to be doing her much good financially. This is why she has turned to prostitution, but there's always a way to go further...

Which is what offers the film its title in writer and director Julia Leigh's curious drama which appeared to take as its subject the sexual exploitation of young women by older men, only it was not quite as simple as that. Though just how complicated this was intended to be was made frostily obscure by a technique which ensured we were rarely any closer to the characters than the distance across the room: really this could have been filmed on CCTV for all the intimacy it elicited. Therefore many found the movie a distinct turn-off thanks to how far Leigh remained from her subjects, but if you persevered there was insight here.

Part of the problem here was Lucy could be described as passive aggressive, with the emphasis on the passive, especially in light of how she gets a big monetary bonus later on in the story. Deliberately Leigh made her not an especially warm personality, so that even when she is being what could best be described as abused for cash, we don't feel as though we want to protect her as would be the case with so many other works in this vein, and that was not due to us wanting to see her punished, it was more to do with the difficulty of getting inside her head and seeing her abusers as pathetic and impotent. That said, there was a streak of the rebel in Lucy which meant her very act of entering the specialised sex industry was some kind of fighting back against her surroundings.

The film's mildly notorious scenes did not occur straight away, as there was a build up to them: a chilly, emotionless build up at that. She answers an advertisement in the student newspaper looking for young women who will be willing to take part in a distinct form of entertaining, which leads to an interview with the apparent head of the company (Rachael Blake) providing the services and a new job, one which pays very well. There are conditions, but for Lucy this seems like easy money, even if it does play out in a rather sinister fashion, which is to perform as a waitress yet again, but this time at an exclusive dinner party, and in expensive underwear for the whole of the evening.

Here we see the women, for there are others dressed even more revealingly, being exploited even if there do not appear to be any sexual acts involved as the fact these older people have power over the younger seems to be as debauched as the Nazis in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, if to somewhat less extreme consequences. That said, when Lucy gets the chance to gather more funds she takes it, by which time we have seen she is not some downtrodden but coldhearted ice queen for she does look after her shut-in friend (Ewen Leslie), and the modern world has never allowed her any more emotional connection than that, though this is taken away from her too, which could explain why she believes she has very little left to lose. The sequences where she is drugged unconscious with her consent and manipulated in that state by wealthy old men were the main talking point (what if she started snoring?), yet Lucy was so awkward to get to know that while she may be jolted out of her constricted life by the finale, you don't hold out much hope for her otherwise. Music by Ben Frost.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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