Sleeping Beauty: Catherine Breillat’s Deconstruction of Failry Tale

One of the most provocative contemporary French auteurs, Catherine Breillat continues to surprise with her choice of subject matter.  It’s too bad that she had remained a marginal figure in American cinema, though most of her work has been theatrically distributed (often by the entrepreneurial Strand Releasing).

Following her acclaimed adaptation of Bluebeard, which was released last year, Breillat turns to the deconstruction of another classic fairy tale, “The Sleeping Beauty.” End result is an enchanting movie that, in offering new, modernist meanings only suggests how rich the source material is and why it continues to inspire generations of filmmakers in its manifest and latent themes.

For those who need a reminder: “Sleeping Beauty” center son a princess cursed at birth to die at the age of sixteen. When three feckless fairy sisters discover this tragic fate, they hatch a plan to alter the curse. Rather than die, Anastasia will sleep for 100 years.

Most of the film depicts the girl in a state of slumber: she comes of age through a series of vivid dreams, filled with charming princes, dwarves, gypsies and magical creatures. When she reawakens as a fully-formed adolescent, she finds that in real life, happy endings are more elusive than in fantasy.

In an interview, Breillat explained what attracted her to the folktale: “This is the story of a little girl who is born into a world she has no clear idea of, and so fabricates a child’s world of her own.  What comes before adolescence are just the long, gentle, and cruel ‘unfinished’ moments of childhood—even if that’s where the fairytale aspects of the story begins. That’s how she creates a character for herself and becomes an adolescent who thinks she knows all about life. But life isn’t a fairytale, and a teenage love affair, just like motherhood at a young age, imposes a different view of things. It brings you ‘back down to earth,’ as the saying goes. So it’s not a fairytale, but a tale about the beginning of life.”

Breillat began her film career after studying acting at Yves Furet Acting Studio in Paris. She is also a successful novelist and has adapted several of her own books into films. Among her films are Bluebeard (2010), The Last Mistress (2006), Anatomy of Hell (2003), Sex is Comedy (2002), Fat Girl (2000) and Romance (1999).