A movie that might have been more aptly titled, Sexually Desirable When Drugged, Vadim Glowna’s House Of The Sleeping Beauties is the sort of lewd male fantasy fare that seems to rear its head at least once a year. And with a filmmaker given the legitimacy to indulge his particular perverse sexual appetite on screen and falsely label it arty, behavior that might otherwise land him in handcuffs in the real world.
Sexual exploitation of minors in movies is one glaring, deplorable manifestation. And last year, Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Exterminating Angels featured actresses paid to ‘audition’ masturbating for the camera. In Brisseau’s case, he was indeed the subject of sexual harassment charges brought by some of his actresses.
And with a match not necessary made in heaven between the voyeuristic mindset of directors and the exhibitionist tendencies of their actors, combining these two potentially unhealthy inclinations when not creatively sublimated, can simply spell disaster. And House Of The Sleeping Beauties (Das Haus Der Schlafenden Schonen) – no relation to that similarly titled children’s fairy tale, and with Glowna certainly no knight in shining armor – is an odious case in point. Not content to film the relentless lascivious activities that comprise his film, Glowna has assigned himself the role of protagonist.
Which allows the nearly seventy year old lecher to openly molest an array of drugged and semi-comatose young virgins in what appears to be a brothel for necrophiliacs. These languid, lyrically crafted episodes, during which the girls are essentially clueless about what is happening to them, are nothing less than a romanticized and lusty aesthetic portrayal of date rape.
A third screen adaptation of the introspective novella Nemureru Bijo, by Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, House Of The Sleeping Beauties has been alternately titled House Of The Sleeping Virgins, but with no particular connection to those Islamic 72 virgins in paradise – other than unhealthy male obsessions.
An inner lament about inevitably approaching death and faded youth by lonely elderly German widower Edmond (Glowna), whose wife and daughter died in a mysterious car crash years ago, the film is no Death In Venice and Glowna is in no way Luchino Visconti, or Thomas Mann for that matter. And while that story was more concerned with probing existential despair through contemplation of elusive youth, Glowna is more fixated on fondling them. Which is unfortunate, since the philosophical passages are captivating but ultimately trivialized.
When we first encounter Edmond, he’s a wealthy businessman and loner moping in solitude around town, having never attained closure over the death of his family. His friend Kogi (Maximilian Schell), another old codger taking pity on his pal, refers him to the bizarre brothel in question, presided over by the fussy, reprimanding unnamed Madame (Angela Winkler).
Here Edmond, who seems to be the only customer in sight, is warned by Madame that one may indulge whatever fantasy, but solely those residing inside one’s head, while only literally sleeping with these nude, narcotically challenged young women.
And so it’s no surprise when this drooling elder succumbs to temptation even without benefit of Viagra apparently, and breaks the house rules with all this helplessly tantalizing, despicably objectified forbidden fruit around him. But not before one talks in her sleep – in French – and Edmond replies, at one point relating a childhood anecdote about his ailing mother curing herself by eating all the hair on his head and hers too, including the pubic variety.
By this time, audiences are likely to have cravings of their own, for the oblivion that comes with whatever needles Madame stuck in the arms of these slumbering sex slaves.
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