By Don Simpson | July 28, 2011
Director: Catherine Breillat
Writers: Catherine Breillat, Charles Perrault
Starring: Carla Besnaïnou, Julia Artamonov, Kérian Mayan, David Chauss, Rosine Favey, Dounia Sichov, Leslie Lipkins, Camille Chalons, Luna Charpentier, Rhizlaine El Cohen
A tomboy trapped in the feminine trappings of a six-year old aristocrat’s body, Anastasia (Carla Besnaïnou) is prone to whining things such as “A little girl’s life is really boring.” Anastasia would much rather be a brave prince named Vladimir and that is only the beginning of Anastasia’s escapist tendencies…
Inexplicably cursed to die at the age of sixteen by a decrepit old witch (Rosine Favey), Anastasia receives a reprieve of sorts from three good fairies (Dounia Sichov, Leslie Lipkins and Camille Chalons) who modify her fate to snooze for a century and awaken from her slumber a mere decade older. Anastasia is soon transported into slumberland outfitted in a fuchsia kimono and tutu. Anastasia’s dream state takes her past a boil-covered giant (Dominique Hulin) and aboard a train to a rural farmhouse where she befriends Peter (Kérian Mayan). With a natural power to make people succumb to her wishes, Anastasia moves in with Peter and his mother (Anne-Lise Kedves), quickly becoming the sister Peter always wanted; but then the snow arrives, and the Snow Queen whisks Peter away from Anastasia. Now what? Well, Anastasia commences a surreal quest to find her beloved “brother,” of course. Along the way she meets a dwarf guard (Pierre Estorges), young albino regents (Laurine David and Paul Vernet), and a knife-wielding Roma girl (Luna Charpentier).
As pale as snow and donning a 100-year old whalebone corset, the 16-year old Anastasia (Julia Artamonov) is completely alien to the modern world. “What species are you?” asks an 18-year old Johan (David Chausse) — who just so happens to be Peter’s great-grandson — but this existential question could very well be rattling around Anastasia’s head as well. Anastasia finds herself as headstrong and willful as her six-year old self but she has also grown to enjoy feminine accoutrements (“For beauty, you must suffer!”) during her long sleep; also awakened are the starved sexual desires of Anastasia’s fully-formed adolescent self. Not long after waking up, she loses her virginity to a mature, real life incarnation of the Roma girl from Anastasia’s dream (Rhizlaine El Cohen); then finds herself impregnated by Johan. Love and motherhood impose a much different perspective on Anastasia’s reality as she suddenly discovers that real life is not a fairy tale, not even for an aristocrat.
The second in her trilogy of subversive fairy tales, Catherine Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty (like last year’s Bluebeard) is loosely based on the classic story from Charles Perrault’s 1697 collection Stories or Fairy Tales From Bygone Eras. The story of The Sleeping Beauty is best known for the 1959 animated adaptation by Disney, but Breillat’s protagonist bitch slaps Disney’s passive damsel upside the face, knocking her back into reality. Breillat also opts to incorporate select elements from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, while introducing her own feminist agenda to the fold.
One of the most provocative contemporary French auteurs, Breillat’s (Bluebeard, The Last Mistress, Anatomy of Hell, Fat Girl) final installment in her fairy tale trilogy is scheduled to be Beauty and the Beast.