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Coming into TIFF 2011, I don’t think any film had more question marks hanging over it than Julia Leigh’s SLEEPING BEAUTY. Specifically, I’d been warned off from it – told that many who’d seen it at the film festivals it has already played didn’t much care for it, and that there had even been walk-outs. There were a few dissenting opinions, saying that it really “wasn’t that bad”…but by and large the cautionary tales were reaching a dull roar.

That might have gone a long way in tempering my expectations.

While I don’t think it’s nearly as good, I’d lump SLEEPING BEAUTY into a category with SHAME as a film one “experiences”, they don’t necessarily “enjoy”. In this case, the story seems equally uncomfortable, but at least the main character feels more sympathetic. For those who don’t know, SLEEPING BEAUTY is about Lucy (Emily Browning) – a college student so hard up for cash that she juggles several odd sources of income at once. She waitresses at a crummy diner, she signs up to be an experiment test subject, and she’s even known to turn the occasional trick. These still don’t add up to a liveable income, so she answers an add which is looking for pretty girls to do…something.

Like SHAME, SLEEPING BEAUTY is not meant to titilate. All of the sexual acts involved leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, since most of them involve things happening while Lucy (or “Sara” as her brothel calls her) is asleep. I liked this film to an extent. The story is straight forward, so it wasn’t the narrative that was pulling me in. In its stead, I think it was the direction that had me so engaged. Everything is observed from a distance: There are very few close-ups, so we always seem to be able to see the entire room and get the uncomfortable feeling like we’re sitting in a chair in the corner watching these interactions. It’s an interesting choice, and an unsettling one at that.

I also really liked Emily Browning in this film. Having watched this, I am know fully convinced that Zack Snyder wasted her in SUCKER PUNCH since she showed more emotion in the first ten minutes of this film than she did in that entire movie. She plays this part with a weary sadness, something she puts away when she’s turning these odd high-class tricks, but something that becomes wildly obvious when she’s on her own. When she finally unleashes it all, she does so in a manner that rips right through you.

So perhaps because I was warned off it…perhaps because I’ve seen worse…or perhaps because I actually¬†was fascinated with what I saw, SLEEPING BEAUTY gets a nod from me. Not an emphatic “Yes, dear reader – put this on your to-see list” declaration, but at the very least a note of time well spent.