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Eyes Wide Shut

MOVIE REVIEW
House of the Sleeping Beauties (2006)

Sleepingbeauty2
First Run Features

Taken at face value, Vadim Glowna’s “House of the Sleeping Beauties” consists of little more than a lot of endless scenes of an old man delivering deeply personal monologues to nude, somnolent young women. Of course, this adaptation of the Yasunari Kawabata novella of the same title actually amounts to something more than an unsettling voyeuristic fantasy. It’s a meditative evocation of the particular, complicated emotions so fundamental to old age, and the ever advancing knowledge that your time on this earth is running out.

Some 15 years after the fact, Edmond (Mr. Glowna) has not moved on from the pain of losing his wife and daughter in a car accident. A friend (Maximilian Schell) tells him of a brothel in which young women agree to be drugged and let clients literally share their beds – no funny business permitted – as they lie passed out and unaware. Edmond becomes obsessed with this mysterious place, particularly its stern madam (Angela Winker) and the stories behind the virginal women willing to be despoiled in such an unconventional way.

Again and again, the same scenario plays out. The camera slowly pans around the occupied bed at the center of the chamber room as Edmond lights a cigarette and bares his soul. Eventually, he will lie down next to the sleeping woman, possibly caress her or kiss her nipples and carry on a one-way conversation in which he wonders about her waking life.

The experience brings up a wealth of painful memories for the character, and exacerbates the burdensome emptiness permanently ensconced within him. He approaches his one-sided interactions with these women as both an interested, leering lover and a compassionate father, while their stuporous state grants him the freedom to explore his darkest secrets. The notion of the women serving as wife, daughter and confessor to Edmond – symbolically presenting him with his last, best chance to recapture what he’s lost – has some dramatic power. But as a metaphor it’s hardly potent enough to sustain an entire film.

HOUSE OF THE SLEEPING BEAUTIES

Opens on Nov. 14 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Vadim Glowna; director of photography, Ciro Cappellari; edited by Charlie Lézin; music by Nikolaus Glowna and Siggi Mueller; production designer, Peter Weber; produced by Vadim Glowna and Raymond Tarabay; released by First Run Features. In German, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Vadim Glowna (Edmond), Angela Winkler (Madame), Maximilian Schell (Kogi) and Birol Ünel (Mister Gold).

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