Published Sep 22, 2010Despite never quite matching the sheer visceral impact and jolting brilliance of her emotional rape allegory, A Ma Sœur, Catherine Breillat has assembled an impressive resume of titles dealing with gender politics and socialization that continues to challenge dominant ideological notions of femininity and masculinity.
While her more aggressive and controversial titles (Romance and Anatomy of Hell) have tackled the subject head on, generating puritanical horror via candid depictions of sexualized violence and un-simulated sex scenes, it is analogous exercises like The Sleeping Beauty that generate the most retroactive analysis.
Here, the mythological notion of Sleeping Beauty is manipulated to reflect cycles of female socialization and childrearing, which are exacerbated by the introduction of ouroboros imagery, suggesting that mothers entrap sons who eventually exploit girls that in turn entrap their sons and so on.
Starting the cycle is young Anastasia, a child in the late 19th century routinely punished for demonstrating characteristics and interests of a masculine nature. Incidentally sentenced to death by a sister, she is comically forced into 100 years of slumber, during which she explores various realms and kingdoms inhabited by albinos, dwarves and gypsies.
Often filmed in theatrical tableau to reflect the fantasies of a child and remove the audience emotionally to inspire thought, each scene has a sense of deliberation, often directed at the notion of girls as princesses. Given tea sets, furs and sugary pink confections, Anastasia's sense of reality is numbed by an external tendency to placate the chaste concept of femininity. Asked to stay out of sight, behave politely and not bother anyone, she glides through the world without struggle, following her older, ersatz brother through the fantasy realm after he hits puberty and rejects his mother for a vilified ice queen; his mother's projection of all women.
What's great about Breillat's particular style of gender dissection is that she doesn't point fingers or offer glib platitudes for the sake of empowerment. She criticizes both men and women, alluding to bigger social conventions as modes of conflict. It's quite refreshing to experience the work of someone so thoughtful in artistic execution and implication, seeing a problem and presenting it to viewers with such precise shrewdness. (Arte France CinÃ©ma)