Judge Gordon Sullivan liked this better than House of the Three Little Pigs, especially with swine flu going around.
A mysterious thriller about loneliness, sex, eroticism and mortality
One of my favorite authors is Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author most famous in America for his collection Labyrinths. One of the reasons I love his writing is because he is a master at suggesting a world beyond the specific narrative of the story he his telling. Consequently, his fiction is littered with tantalizing asides that hint at another world just outside our own, where things are just a little bit different. I bring this up because the plot for House of the Sleeping Beauties sounds exactly like the kind of small detail that Borges would include in one of his stories. Based on the novel of Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata, House of the Sleeping Beauties is the story of Edmond (played by director Vadim Glowna), an elderly gentleman who has recently lost his wife and daughter. His friend Kogi (Maximilian Schell, Deep Impact) recommends that Edmond visit the titular house, where old men go to lie all night next to beautiful young women who can't be awakened and will have no memory of their bedmate. While this might sound like heaven to some, Edmond isn't satisfied with a night beside a beautiful woman; he begins to question the Madam about the girls and her other customers, which leads him into difficulties.
Sadly, despite the beautiful nude women in the film, House of the Sleeping Beauties should have remained only a novel. I can understand how this story might crackle on the page, but the story is driven by the interior emotions of the characters which gets lost in the translation to the screen. Instead of finding more visual ways to tell his story, Glowna relies on an endless series of pretentious-sounding voiceover monologues from the characters as they intone their deepest feelings and existential questions for the audience. While this works in a novel, where the reader can either skim or savor the characters' words, with film the audience is in thrall while the actors slowly intone the German script.
I might be willing to forgive the film its cinematic excesses if it had something to say, but it doesn't. The whole "sleeping beauties" idea is a good one, but it's only an idea, not a plot, not a narrative, and Edmond's slow seduction is really a non-event. He goes to the house, pours out his emotions to a sleeping figure, leaves, and repeats. I know that the idea is to create a fairytale atmosphere, but that's all rot if the film has no point, no message. Fairytales are allegory imparting some deep social wisdom; House of Sleeping Beauties offers no such thesis. If I learned anything from the film it's that meddling is not a good idea, but I hardly needed to spend 100 minutes learning that lesson.
If we examine the box we see the film's other shortcoming (although it's really a shortcoming of the DVD). About half the quotes on the box (of which there are an inordinate number) talk about the film's fairytale atmosphere or subconscious depth. As I said before, that's balderdash. The other half talk about the film's lush visuals. While I give Glowna credit for interesting cinematography despite a limited location, this DVD does nothing to support his visuals. The disc is non-anamorphic, and overly compressed so that noise and macroblocking become an issue. There is a distinct lack of detail in the presentation, and not in a soft, dreamy way, but in an "I may as well have downloaded this off the Internet"-compression way. Although I'm not a huge fan of the film, it deserves better. The two-channel German audio is decent, especially compared to the video. It's mixed a little low, but there were no issues with dynamic range so I didn't feel bad turning it up a bit. Extras are skimpy, including a photo gallery, director's notes, and biographies.
It's not all bad. The film does have a decent atmosphere, even if nothing is happening. Also, if you like to see smaller-but-not-emaciated women naked, there are several throughout the film (even if they aren't presented very erotically).
It's sad that a film about sleeping next to a beautiful young woman every night is this boring, but that's the case. I can only recommend this to diehard European film fans who have made their way through the work of the masters and need something Germanic to feast on.
As much as I'd like to visit a house of sleeping beauties, this film is guilty.
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