‘Sleeping Beauty’ (‘Belle Dormant’): Film Review | Belfort 2016

Sleeping Beauty - Still - H - 2016
Belfort Film Festival
It ain’t Disney.

Niels Schneider, Agathe Bonitzer, Mathieu Amalric and Serge Bozon star in Spanish writer-director Ado Arrietta’s contemporary adaptation of the famous fairy tale.

There may be a beauty and she may be sleeping, but that’s pretty much where the comparisons end between the classic fairy tale and this modern retelling by Spanish filmmaker Ado Arrietta, who works with a French-speaking cast — as well as a helicopter, an iPhone and a Conga line — to tell the story of a spoiled prince trying to undo the curse befallen upon a kingdom and its beloved princess.

Not quite for children, nor necessarily for adults seeking out an imaginary thrill-ride, the highly eclectic affair stars auteur-friendly actors Agathe Bonitzer (Right Here Right Now), Niels Schneider (Heartbeats) and Mathieu Amalric (My Golden Days), which should give the film some pull in France and on the festival circuit. But despite a few moments of creative ingenuity, as well as tasteful production values given the small budget, the rather stilted performances and deadpan atmosphere will make this Sleeping Beauty a tough item to push outside of niche markets.

The Madrid-born Arrietta directed a handful of features — including Flammes and Le Jouet Criminel — throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though this is his first fictional effort in a long time. He brings a certain brand of kitschy class and contemporary cheekiness to a tale that’s been told countless times before, yet it’s hard to take anything on screen very seriously, with certain scenes provoking more chuckles than wonder.

Set in the fictive land of Letonia between the years 2000 and 1900, the story roughly follows the travails of Prince Egon (Schneider) — a foppish dream boy who spends most of his time smoking cigarettes and laboriously beating on a drum set, much to the chagrin of both the audience and his father the king (played by director Serge Bozon).

During a long helicopter ride with his tutor (Amalric), Egon learns how the nearby kingdom of Kentz was struck by a curse 100 years ago when Princess Rosemunde (Tatiana Verstraeten) pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, plunging the entire realm into a prolonged sleep. Now a century later, a redheaded fairy named Gwendoline (Bonitzer) tries to convince Egon to kiss Rosemunde on the lips and wake everyone up so they can live happily ever after. Or at least that’s the general idea.

Arrietta manages to get some mileage out of all the constant interplay between old and new, magical and real, although the scenes set in modern times often feel like they could take place a century ago, with the actors reciting wooden dialogue in such a distant way that they could be reading off teleprompters. This is obviously done on purpose and the director never tries to hide the fact that we are supposed to be witnessing a fairy tale, but even the world of make-believe needs to be a little believable at times to keep viewers interested.

If some of the chattier sequences can be trying, Arrietta steps up his game during the last 20 minutes when Egon crosses a misty forest and arrives in Kentz to find the place frozen in time, taking snapshots of its statuesque citizens with his iPhone. It’s a simple effect that works rather well, with cinematographer Thomas Favel (Diamond Island) and production designer Erwan Le Floc’h transforming the actual French chateau settings into places of minor enchantment, especially during the finale.

Alongside the predominantly Gallic ensemble, Rainer Werner Fassbinder regular Ingrid Caven (In the Year of the 13 Moons) co-stars as a sneering evil fairy whose spell puts beauty to sleep.

Venue: Entrevues Belfort Film Festival
Production companies: Paraiso Productions, Pomme Hurlante Films, Hellish Producciones
Cast: Niels Schneider, Agathe Bonitzer, Mathieu Amalric, Tatiana Verstraeten, Ingrid Caven, Serge Bozon
Director-screenwriter: Ado Arrietta
Producers: Nathalie Trafford, Eva Chillon
Director of photography: Thomas Favel
Production designer: Erwan Le Floc’h
Costume designer: Justine Pearce
Editor: Ado Arreitta
Composers: Benjamin Esdraffo, Ronan Martin
Sales: Capricci

In French

Not rated, 82 minutes