Sleeping Beauty, a film written and directed by Julia Leigh, was part of the Official Selection at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, in competition for the Palme d’Or in May 2011. The film is the directorial debut of Leigh, 41, who has previously made her name as one of Australia’s most gifted young writers.
Sleeping Beauty is a haunting, erotic drama inspired by the traditional fairy tale of the same name and by ancient and modern literature. “I wanted to make a film where the audience responds with: ‘Did I really see and hear that? Can such a thing really exist’?” says Leigh of the sexually provocative story which features Australian actress Emily Browning in the lead role. “My hope is that the film allows the audience to use its imagination.”
In a spurt of inspired writing over about 10 days, Julia Leigh created the first draft of the film script. A more polished version appeared on the 2008 Hollywood “Black List”, a list of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.
Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a hidden world of beauty and desire. Death-haunted, quietly reckless, Lucy takes a job as a “Sleeping Beauty”. In the Sleeping Beauty Chamber old men seek an erotic experience that requires Lucy’s absolute submission. This unsettling task starts to bleed into Lucy’s daily life and she develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep.
The film has drawn strong reactions from critics, with at least two of them comparing it to Stanley Kubrick’s final, highly controversial work, Eyes Wide Shut. In Australia the Sunday Telegraph described Leigh’s film as “a mesmerising erotic triumph”, while Indiewire, a news service focusing on cinema, called it “beautiful, delicate, near-perfect cinema”. In the United Kingdom, the Guardian said Sleeping Beauty was “technically elegant with vehemence and control … there is force and originality in Leigh’s work.”
Director Jane Campion who agreed to advise the budding director during pre- and post-production said of the film: “Sleeping Beauty thrilled and excited me. Julia Leigh has a new, fully confident cinema voice. Her talent and the film are extraordinary.”
The music for Sleeping Beauty was written by Ben Frost, the 2010-2011 music protégé in the Rolex Arts Initiative, working under the guidance of mentor Brian Eno.
Leigh says of her move into cinema: “In a way my literary background is my cinema background: one and the same thing. My ‘background’ is my sensibility.”
She is currently based in Sydney, having spent extended periods in Paris and New York, where she taught at Barnard College. Her fiction has been translated into seven languages.