Catherine Breillat is a director we at Shooting Wall champion as one of foremost cinematically progressive directors working today. Breillat's latest is something every cinephile, if they have the opportunity in a theater or through the internet, should see. Stronger than her last film Blue Beard and on the same plane as the masterpieces The Last Mistress, Fat Girl, and Anatomy of Hell, I wonder in the coming weeks as I re-watch the film if it will come to dominate as my favorite of hers.
Sleeping Beauty's elements, the combination of the mise en scene and narrative pieces that each constitute metaphors, combine to create a layered interwoven epic. The film is non-linear: the story begins around the time the original fairytale was written and then the film leaps decades into the future. As sleeping beauty sleeps, we follow her as she is constantly displaced though various shifts in time in space. Though the film remains true to the eras which it depicts, it is dominated by a general "fairy tale" aesthetic. It is quite spectacular just to get your head around what you're being given.
Now, there is a lot going on with this film. It is definitely using the strengths Breillat has honed with her past mytho-historical works like Blue Beard and The Last Mistress, to push her unique feminist polemics found in Anatomy Of Hell, Sex Is Comedy, Fat Girl, etc., on a grand socio-historical scale that ultimately pushes her ideas to a totalizing extreme. This film, in a simple sense, also pushes to a horrifying limit a line said earlier in the film, that "the lives of little girls are so boring." A thing meditated on through out and then heightened towards the end when the idea of abstracting oneself is seen as a nightmare.
Breillat, a filmmaker with amazing formal strengths in cinematography and art direction, utilizes her unique formal strategies to a limit with this film. Her gray muted color palettes, her surrealist gestures found in everything from sculptures adorning backgrounds to cobwebs suggesting century long immobility, long takes which slowly move closer to the character and heightened emotion impact, harsh complex lighting set-ups that highlight the muted-grayness of the highly unique characters and of the world, etc., make the narrative so much more meaningful.
In short, this film is spectacular. With Breillat, you have to be open to what she is doing. She can be a harsh and violent filmmaker, but it is never without purpose. There is always so much going on her films. And Sleeping Beauty is one of her and cinema's crowning achievements. See it however you can.