House of the Sleeping Beauties
First Run Features // Unrated // $29.95 // April 21, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 8, 2009
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The Film:

House of the Sleeping Beauties, whether it's considered to be a somber thought-provoker or a meddling excuse for full-frontal nudity, is little more than the story of an old man who pays to roll around in bed with stripped-down, knocked-out girls who won't wake up in the process. It doesn't matter whether this man has suffered atrocities in his life, namely the deaths of his wife and daughter, and feels the need to bear his heart and soul to bodies that can't deny listening. The focus, from start to finish, revolves around watching the lead Edmond caressing, kissing, sucking, and for all intents and purposes violating these oblivious (albeit informed) women for pleasure, describing their scents and reflecting on his experiences as a man. Crass and uninterestingly shallow instead of philosophically stimulating, it's little more than fantasy material with a half-assed, uninteresting step towards the cathartic core needed to support its perverse nature.

Well, liberating or not for the patron in question, this is an off-putting concept realized in an indulgent and misogynistic fashion. Director Valim Glowna conveniently also stars as the lead Edmond, a drab and joyless man searching for some form of happiness in his psychologically painful existence. His friend steers him towards a bizarre sort of brothel for help, a place kept by an understanding yet harsh woman that supposedly invigorates even the most deprecated of men. She does so by supplying "sleeping beauties", prostitutes of a sort that offer a very unique service -- nothing. They lay there asleep, completely naked and surrendered to every non-violent whim of the house's patrons, all while clearly induced with a type of drug to keep them from awakening and from remembering what they've done.

A couple of decent ideas are floating within the same cinematic headspace as House of the Sleeping Beauties, a take on a Japanese novel of the same name by author Yasunari Kawabata. Its concept looks at elderly men's self-perception, the gradient of sexual desire that revolves around cherry-picked elements from our lives, and the uniquely fixating presence of another person sleeping next to you -- alive, yet somewhat dead to the world. There's compelling material to work with here, all of it likely stemming from the source material. Though unavoidably bizarre, these mature themes could be addressed in an artistic, almost existential fashion if handled properly.

Though a little dust does gets kicked up with its ideas and Edmond's laborious speeches, Valim Glowna's awkwardly non-sexual slice of erotica almost seems more like a poorly-performed tally sheet for the total number of strikingly beautiful nude women the actor/director can lay alongside within a 90-minute time frame. The answer, to my surprise, is somewhere between six and eight, including a shot of him "sleeping" with two young girls at once and showcasing his own full-frontal, erm, arousal as he recollects a sexual memory from his past. Glowna tries to mask the indulgent nature of the film with a broad array of speeches regarding his memories -- the "milky" scent of the first sleeping girl he encounters, connecting pubic hair to experiences with his mother, etc -- but none of it helps the film's murky, pandering motives around either maternity or sensuality.

House of the Sleeping Beauties certainly fits the bill in thinking that it's far more thought-provoking and important that it could ever dream to be, spilling over the line to pretentiousness. It gets so wrapped up in the here-and-now of each scene, the details of each girl fondled and fixated on, that it glazes over the partitioning cinematic elements that separates it from being superficial late-night cable "skin"-ema. This coming from somebody who found many merits within Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses -- an arguable comparison due to the lewdness of the material -- that others do not. I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded moviegoer, but all the self-gratifying decadence spilling from the stitches in House of the Sleeping Beauties left me very, very cold and with very little affection for Edmond. At least the women were attractive, right?

The DVD:

Video and Audio:

House of the Sleeping Beauties is presented from First Run Features in a non-anamorphic transfer marked by haziness, aliasing, and digital garbling across the board. It can claim one positive -- a distinct lack of any sort of blips or distortion from the source. Outside of that, contrast is a devastating issue alongside the rest of its problems, oftentimes presenting a holistically digitized image with a brash array of muddy grays and drab color.

Audio isn't much better, sounding out in German Stereo with burnt-in English Subtitles. Can't really gauge the clarity of dialogue, but distortion was minimal throughout. It's nothing all that exciting, but it supports the film more than the picture.

Special Features:

Features are limited to a Director's Notes text portion, a Biography section, a skimpy Photo Gallery and a few Trailers.

Final Thoughts:

A bizarrely compelling premise goes awry with House of the Sleeping Beauties, turning into a showcase for naked female bodies lying lifeless while a troubled, speech-riddled old man fondles then in an attempt to bolster his stagnant emotional state. Though Edmond's melancholy reflections on his past have minuscule moments of enlightenment, concentration on bland eroticism and self-indulgence cloud the potential for resonance. Both the film and First Run Features' disc -- non-anamorphic and light on extras -- should be Skipped.

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