The ethereal Sleeping Beauty will haunt you when you sleep at night

Cert: 18

SLEEPING Beauty is far from the fairytale the title hints at. With an airy darkness at its core that moves in and out of focus, this strange Australian film by novelist-turned-director Rachel Leigh perverts any notion of princesses, chastity and happy endings.

Set in an anonymous Australian city, the film opens with a lab technician preparing a tube. Moments later, a beautiful young woman called Lucy (Emily Browning) enters the lab and – after signing a form – takes the tube down her throat, gagging softly but with control, while the technician inflates a balloon now in her chest.

This is one of the jobs that Lucy does to help pay for her studies. She does it calmly, matter of factly, just as she accepts a bet to perform sexual favours for money and cognac in a bar, scrubs tables at a café and lies on the floor at her office job while waiting for infinite photocopies to be complete.

Between these troubling money-making schemes, being kicked out of her flat by an irritating landlord and visits to a dreary housing estate to see her closest friend, who is a dying alcoholic, Lucy still looks fresh. Fresh, eerily calm and strangely explosive.

What she does next ups the ante: she calls up about an ad in the student paper and goes to meet the ethereal Clara (Rachael Blake), who talks of a job involving silver service, lingerie and total discretion. As if to prove that her beautiful body is meaningless to her, Lucy not only agrees to the silver service job but, having excelled at it, also accepts a far more sinister, risky job with the same people – to be a sleeping beauty.

The arrangement is as follows: Clara administers her a sleeping potion via Japanese tea ceremony in a mysterious country mansion. Then Lucy sleeps in a big bed, while elderly men do what they will with her (apart from penetration). The study of these aged, impotent lotharios is unlike anything you’re likely to see on screen this year. The imagery is disturbing but the film is a terribly deft study of the vulnerability, despair and ridiculousness of handicapped male desire, full of bravado and self-loathing. It is a study of beautiful, death-daring youth and sorrowful, death-nearing age.

If the film sounds strange, it is. It will haunt you and when you go to sleep that night you may well feel a bit spooked. But it’s terribly human, too, and utterly riveting in all its sad, lost-feeling intensity. Rachel Leigh has pulled off one of the most original, intelligent films of the year.

Zoe Strimpel

Cert: 12A

THE new Three Musketeers is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel and even more loosely based on reality. Athos, Aramis, Porthos and young d’Artagnan are all present, as are the Cardinal and Milady de Winter, but then so are impossible flying pirate ships. As you might have guessed, it’s a mixed-bag.

After a brief showcase of the film’s better 3D moments (yes, it’s in 3D and no, it’s not really any better for it), including a Matrix-style bullet-time scene, it begins with a young and Disney-fied d’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) leaving home in search of the legendary, but sadly washed-up, three musketeers. A few dodgy one-liners and some swashbuckling later and you’re at the palace, wondering why everyone has an American accent, and confused by the arrival of Orlando Bloom in a 17th century zeppelin.
Bloom provides quite a good girly-yet-evil villain as the Duke of Buckingham, as does Milla Jovovich as Milady de Winter. Actually, if you just forget about those incongruous airships for a moment, you can even sit back and enjoy the constant stream of action that flicks across the screen. There’s a cameo by James Cordon, a couple of love interests and, just what the kids ordered, lots and lots of massive explosions.

It’s fast-paced and light-hearted enough to be passable, but while children will probably enjoy all the action and laugh at the silly characters, it would be patronising to expect them to just accept how daft the whole thing is.

Rob Goodway