One may think that perhaps there is not much more to be done with Perrault’s classic fairy tale; when it comes down to it, is a fairy tale not just a fairy tale? And, once Disney dunnit, nobody else need bother. Au contraire. Breillat’s recent adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, (La Belle Endormie), undoubtedly proves one wrong. And rightly so: interpretations and modern reworkings of fairy tales can lead to masterpieces of imagination and surrealism, and the possibilities are indeed endless.
When the stubborn, tomboyish and quite delightful Princess Anastasia (Carla Bresninou) falls into a century of accursed slumber, she is granted the consolatory freedom to occupy herself by living a life of 'thrills' through dreams. La Belle Endormie plays out in a series of bizarre and beautiful dreamscapes, following the comings and goings of the eternally young Anastasia as she encounters perils and forges new relationships in her hundred years as a six year old.
The film blends both the original tale of Sleeping Beauty we all know and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen into a spectacular dream life for the princess. Anastasia roams from one fantastical land to another and her reveries are a beautiful and surreal exploration of the eternity of childhood, of love and of grief.
When the fanciful princess awakes, gazing into the eyes of her prince-not-quite-so-Charming one hundred years later, in a 20th Century world which to her is utterly alien, she is forced to adapt to new challenges and dangers, which are often more frightening and certainly more real than the ogres of her nightmares. It is an allegory of a new life and of initiation, of blossoming quite unexpectedly into modern adulthood as much as it is a fantastical tale.
The only disagreeable aspect of the film was the somewhat unnecessary use of CGI, whether it was entirely needless or the viewers imagination would have done the job just fine (we do understand that wands make magic, there’s simply no need for cheap-looking sparkles, please don’t insult us), without taking away from the simplicity and clarity of the film.
Breillat moves away from the subject matter of her earlier films, leaving behind her too the controversy she has aroused with her more explicit work. Rather than the focus of this film being 'coming-of-age', a recurrent theme in her earlier cinema, she omits this period of the Princess's life almost entirely: upon waking the princess is thrown into adulthood.