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House of the Sleeping Beauties - drama DVD / arthouse and international DVD / suspense review
(Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen)
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 2 1/2 stars
Actors: Vadim Glowna, Angela Winkler, Maximilian Schell, Birol Ünel, Mona Glass, Marina Weis
Director: Vadim Glowna   Studio: First Run Features
DVD release: 21 April 2009   Runtime: 99 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Stereo - German), Subtitles (English), Photo gallery, Film notes by the director/star, Biography, Trailers for other First Run features

Every once in the while, some esteemed critic will bemoan the lack of erotically charged dramas that don't slip into porn but instead deal with the subject matter with honesty and maturity. Truth be told, there is a reason for this - these films are hard to do. Eroticism is very, very subjective: what is erotic for one viewer might be repugnant (or silly, or creepy, or - perhaps worst of all - boring) to another. Unfortunately, while House of the Sleeping Beauties is a noble attempt to make a mature, profound erotic film, it simply did not work for me. Despite a strong start, it becomes by its end too pretentious, boring and creepy (and not in a "good" creepy way).

The story: a businessman in his 60s has lost his wife and child in a car crash (he suspects the wife committed suicide and took their daughter with her). A rich friend tells him about a secret brothel where wealthy men may spend the night alongside a beautiful young woman who has been sent into a drug-induced sleep from which they cannot awaken; house rules forbid the men from waking the women. Though dazzled by the beauty of the young women, the older man becomes concerned about who they are when awake and begins to pry the madam for information about the mysterious house.

The basic plot and tone of the film follows that of Marlon Brando's controversial erotic film from 1973, Last Tango in Paris. In both films, the protagonists are successful middle-aged businessmen who have been forever scarred emotionally by the suicides of their wives. Both men become obsessed with their own mortality and mistakenly feel they can find solace and psychic healing through "no questions asked" sexual relationships with young women. Finally, both make the fatal mistake of trying to know the real person behind their fantasy lover.

However, while neither is a total success, Last Tango remains the far superior film. For one, it has Brando's now legendary performance (to this day considered one of the greatest performances in film history), and Glowna is no Brando. Second, there are scenes in Last Tango that carry a devastating emotional wallop which House of the Sleeping Beauties cannot match.

House of the Sleeping Beauties soon falls into a monotonous pattern. The old man (director and star Vadim Glowna) is given plenty of time to deliver long soliloquies about his impending demise and the major regrets he has in his life, while all the while he is lying beside or sitting nearby one of the sleeping beauties. Other supporting characters are given soliloquies about their thoughts and concerns regarding the old man, ones which are presented in a voiceover narration of the character as he/she watches the old man walk away or work at his desk. Such an idea works the first times it is presented, but when every character starts doing it, it becomes pretentious and slows down an already leisurely paced film (I half expected the family dog to be given a soliloquy - "I wonder why he never walks me anymore...").

The film is not a complete shambles. The young women are extremely beautiful, many of the film's images are quite striking, and at first I felt sorry for the old man. However, since the film did not "wow" me with its acting or visually artistry, I could not shake the rather repugnant central conceit of the film: young women are being sent into a drug-induced, near-comatose stupor so that they can be groped by an old man. I honestly don't feel the makers set out to make porn, but at its core, there is a grade-A level of sleaze hidden behind the artistry.

  • Photo gallery
  • Film notes by the director/star
  • Biography
  • Trailers for other First Run features
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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