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Cannes 2011

Cannes 2011

Midnight In Paris/Sleeping Beauty

The Sunday Times Culture blog

May 2011

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Cannes 2011: Woody Allen/ Sleeping Beauty

The Cannes Film Festival got off to a diverting, but fairly inconsequential start with the unveiling of Woody Allen's latest travelogue comedy Midnight in Paris and the Australian novelist-turned-director Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, a refined mood piece about a prostitute entering the creepier fringes of her profession, writes Matt Mueller.

That Woody continues to be a tireless workhorse in the twilight of his career is a mixed blessing — he can still churn out some brilliantly witty comedy, but it comes at the price of flimsily conceived stories and a stock set of characters and themes that hardly change from film to film.

Owen Wilson brought his hangdog shagginess to the film's “Woody” role as a Hollywood hack holidaying with his shrewish fiancée (Rachel McAdams). His frustrated dreams of being a novelist are reignited by the French capital. Cue a time-travel fantasia where every night he's whisked back to Gay Paree in the 1920s to dally, dance and debate with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). It's fun, it's frothy, it's as forgettable as Carla Bruni's fleeting appearance as a museum guide, but it served as an easy entrée to the festival.

Far more intriguing was Leigh's film-making debut, a languorously played erotic drama about a university student named Lucy (Sucker Punch's Emily Browning) who is drawn into a world of high-end prostitution where rich old men pay for the privilege of spending the night with unconscious women. Leigh's eye is exacting, and she crafts some sumptuous imagery in a classy art film that explores mundanities as much as it does violation.

Apart from depicting Lucy's numb existence, however, there's not much of a point being made, nor is Sleeping Beauty as disturbing as its subject matter suggests. But we were engaged from start to finish, not least by Browning's brave and terrific turn.

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