Film and TV

Catherine Breillat's Sleeping Beauty subverts the classic fairy tale

The second film in her planned trilogy of subverted fairy tales, Catherine Breillat's latest topples the tyranny of pink and princesses. The Sleeping Beauty, like last year's Bluebeard, is based on a classic Charles Perrault legend. But Breillat reimagines the slumbering heroine as a gender insurrectionist, freeing her from her most retrograde and enduring cultural representation: Disney's passive damsel. "A little girl's life is really boring," six-year-old Anastasia (Carla Besnaïnou) announces in voiceover, sharing her lust for adventure. Despising dresses and any other traditional, femme-y trappings, the tiny tomboy climbs trees and proclaims her new identity: "I'm Sir Vladimir." Cursed at birth to die young by a warty old hag, aristocratic Anastasia had received a reprieve from three nymphet fairies, who modify the newborn's fate so that she goes into a century-long deep sleep at age six, not to wake until she turns sixteen. Her body may be at rest, but her dreams are filled with derring-do. And in staging Anastasia's REM escapades, Breillat proves that an extremely limited budget is no impediment to carrying out her ideas. In the film's final third, centered on the sixteen-year-old Anastasia (Julia Artamonov), Breillat revisits a defining theme of her work: the sexual appetite of young women. Though Sleeping Beauty ends ambiguously, it remains consistent with Breillat's logic: A girl's childhood and adolescence are often culturally sanctioned confinements. But the prisoners aren't always victims; the jails can be escaped through the courage to "go alone into the world."

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Melissa Anderson