It’s easy to see why Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beautywas invited into the Cannes film festival’s prestigious official competition, a rare honour for a directorial debut. Understatedly strange, erotic, quietly surrealistic and slightly disturbing, it’s a striking film that immediately marks out its Australian writer-director as a confident new cinematic voice. The simple though often deliberately perplexing tale finds beautiful university student Lucy, played with magnificent self-possession by Emily Browning, taking on a part-time job where she allows herself to be drugged and sexually used by rich, elderly men for reasons that aren’t completely clear. In content and style terms the film is so unlike 99.99 percent of those released it’s tempting to call it boldly original, though Leigh’s ambiguous co-mingling of reality, the subconscious and sexual desire owes much to the dreamscapes of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shutand David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The perverse female sexual parables of France’s Catherine Breillat (whose last film interestingly was also called Sleeping Beauty) are…Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now or log in to continue reading.
Lynden Barber is a freelance film and television critic, and a lecturer in screen studies. He writes a film review column for Limelight Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Australian Screen Online website. He was Artistic Director of the Sydney Film Festival in 2005 and 2006, and is a former film writer for The Australian and a former film reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Articles by Lynden Barber
There’s a scene near the start of this Aboriginal drama when a muscly indigenous man gets into a vicious bar-room fight. For a moment it looks as if director and co-writer Brendan Fletcher’s debut feature is going to turn into an Australian answer to 1994 Kiwi hit Once Were Warriors– an unflinchingly powerful “social problem” picture focusing on the indigenous underclass. Actor Dean Daley-Jones even looks remarkably similar to that film’s male lead, Temuera Morrison, who played a Maori given to fits of domestic violence. But soon the energy levels relax and the film turns into a gentle road journey in which TJ (Daley-Jones) travels from Perth to the remote Kimberley to see his estranged son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda). In a parallel plot strand, Bullet is arrested for a petty crime and sent to a training camp where juveniles are taught traditional desert survival skills. The film suffers from its too-understated narrative instincts, which see the twin stories often drifting and allows tuneful song…Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now or log in to continue reading.
Shakespeare’s final play has inspired several films, including the science-fiction Forbidden Planet, Paul Mazursky’s contemporary Tempest, and versions by Peter Greenaway ( Prospero’s Books) and Derek Jarman. Now comes a new version from Amercian director Julie Taymor, known for her visually supercharged productions The Lion Kingon stage and, on film, Titus Andronicusand the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe. You could be forgiven for anticipating a visually rich experience. After all this is a play set on an exotic island filled with strangeness and magic. It’s disappointing then to see how bleak Taymor’s vision so often looks, and feels. Breaking cleanly away from her trademark extravagance, Taymor conjures up an island that’s nothing but craggy rocks and wind-swept desert. Balancing up the ledger are some imaginative visual effects and bold casting decisions. The protagonist becomes Prospera, played splendidly by Helen Mirren. Russell Brand makes a lively Trinculo in the comic sub-plot, and the casting of African-born Djimon Hounsou as Caliban…Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now or log in to continue reading.
Wow. Just when you thought you knew all about Cuban music, along comes this steaming hot release to prove you wrong. If the incredibly spirited music of the Creole Choir is distinctly different from the Cuban dance music of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, it’s for a good reason. Its ten members are descended from Haitians who were brought to Cuba as slaves in the 18th century. Those slaves’ ancestry accounts for the heavy African sound in both their drumming – the only instrumental accompaniment – and striking vocal melodies. If you also think you hear French and Spanish inflections in the vocals, it’s because the choir sing in Creole, a pot pourri of European, Caribbean and African tongues. These are extraordinarily fiery performances – enough to light up the sky on the darkest of days.
Based on a novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Gois an intelligent science fiction story that steadfastly refuses to obey genre rules and instead plays out as the high- toned literary adaptation it is. The film is set in an alternate version of England during the 1970s through to the 1990s, a country in which most major diseases have been banished via a social mechanism that only gradually becomes clear. Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley play pupils at a very strict but undeniably strange boarding school. It takes a while to figure out the truth of their situation but discover it they eventually do. The casting is first-rate (Charlotte Rampling plays the girls’ strict headmistress) and the scenario powerful and thought-provoking. At first the film’s subtlety works in its favour by lending it an enigmatic creepiness. In the longer term, however, it tends to stifle the drama. Mark Romenek’s cautious direction is one cause, but you can also blame characters who too often surrender to their preordained fates – they have little to do dramatically other than act out a conventional lovers’ triangle (Andrew Garfield plays the linchpin). Only when the girls team up does the…Access…