Film critics often gather in small packs right after press screenings here at the Cannes Film Festival. Groups assemble in the walkways of the massive Palais des Festivals, or on the sidewalk out front, to quickly assess a movie. After an anticipated competition entry like Julie Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, the chatter can become both intense and entertaining.
Comparing notes after last night’s screening, key critics were talking pretty tough about the first time film by an Australian novelist. They seemed to want something more substantive from the explicit and graphic drama. Fans of the film were rather silent early on. Expectedly though, words of praise mixed with dismissive takes as reviews emerged online and in print overnight.
Some reporters were quick to call it a flop, but throughout the day at the Festival, the chatter grew. Cannes has the divisive film of its 2011 edition and the lack of a singular opinion on the movie has made it one to watch.
The story of a young woman trying to make ends meet, the film follows Lucy (Emily Browning) to a gig as a sexual plaything for older men. Working in a high-end brothel, she drinks a tea that knocks her out so that the her clients can have their way with her while she sleeps. However, house rules dictate that they aren’t allowed to “go all the way.”
Strikingly photographed, the film marks the arrival of an aspiring auteur. The fact that it is dividing audiences and stirring debate at a festival of this magnitude seals its status as a must-see movie for cinephiles. Watch it and then weigh in.
Aussie auteur Jane Campion lent her name to the film in advance of its Cannes debut, but skeptics found it odd that she was only listed on a list of special thanks during the end credits. The issue came up during a Cannes press conference today and Leigh explained that Campion, who was seated in the audience, coming on board as a presenter was a last minute idea just before the festival.
In today’s audio podcast from Cannes, Leigh talks about Campion, her own inspirations and actress Emily Browning shares a few insights.
Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter from Cannes (@eug) and follow the rest of FIlmLinc.com’s Cannes coverage here.