Egon (Niels Schneider) is crown prince of the modern-day European kingdom of Letonia. Instead of applying himself to courtly duties, Egon spends much of his time drinking, smoking and loudly playing the drums. When he learns of the fabled kingdom of Gentz, whose territory lies within Letonia’s borders, and whose people are frozen asleep until a prince goes and wakes their princess with a kiss, he becomes fixated on finding Gentz and performing the kiss himself.
Adapting so well-worn a story as a fairy tale is a task with enormous creative risks. There needs to be an interesting angle found for the material, or a particularly lavish and attention-grabbing aesthetic, or simply a careful attention to detail and a respectful attitude to the source. Sleeping Beauty, a new French adaptation by Spanish director Ado Arrietta achieves none of those things. It feels bored and perfunctory. It feels lazy. While there are occasional laughs that stem from a playful, self-aware take on the material, those laughs come much too sparsely to give the film any merit. It is a colossal misfire in almost every respect.
The actors seem genuinely disinterested in their performances. The screenplay feels as if Arrietta could barely bring himself the enthusiasm required to write it. It is remarkably short as well, barely scraping past 80 minutes including its opening and closing titles. The film introduces Egon, who is a remarkably irritating protagonist, before leaping into a flashback that essentially re-tells the fairy tale without much creativity or energy. To her credit, Tatiana Verstraeten is relatively heartfelt and engaging as the titular ‘sleeping beauty’. Everyone else looks as if they have one eye on their pay cheque and another on a clock.
Stand back and squint and you can sort of see the film that Arrietta was attempting to make: a self-aware absurdist comedy, taking the traditional story and re-telling through a very cynical and deadpan lens. Whether due to poor direction, or simply a completely misguided strategy to achieve that goal, Arrietta never gets close. There is a glimmer of fun towards the film’s climax, as a curious Egon wanders through Gentz Castle, idly taking photographs of the various frozen courtiers with his iPhone. It does not last for long, and the film ends with its audience likely wondering when it was going to begin.
This is, when all is said and done, the worst kind of festival film: the kind that where those looking for an interesting and fresh take will come away disappointed and mildly resentful, and those less familiar with arthouse cinema will leave worrying that they were not sophisticated enough to get the point. Relax: it’s not you. Sleeping Beauty is a dreadful waste of time.