If Sleeping Beauty were to fall into that deep sleep now, would she be placed on life support? Marco Bellochio’s new film, Dormant Beauty, takes a complicated and layered look at a situation from a number of years ago in Italy where the decision of whether or not a woman, Eluana Englaro, in a deep coma, could be taken off of life support was made extremely public and brought into court. Bellochio makes this far from a sensationalistic docudrama however. He places several stories alongside the TV screens blaring out coverage. In one segment, an actress (played by a wonderfully melodramatic Isabelle Huppert) performs the role of the cloistered nun as she cares for her daughter kept alive by a tube pumping air for an audience of mirrors. Her son fights to get her to return to the stage. Meanwhile, a senator (Toni Servillo of The Great Beauty) tries to decide how to vote on Eluana’s case which brings ghosts of his past. At the same time, his distant daughter Maria (a lovely Alba Rohrwacher) marches for Eluana to be kept alive and falls in love with a man who protests against it. A doctor watches, obsessively, the body of a suicidal drug addict who is in a coma and wishes no longer to be alive. Bellochio shows all the meanings that this real event could have for these different people, all of the implications that it brings. This news story becomes the driving force between a network of stilled relationships, between lovers, mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. This is a story not just of one sleeping beauty but several, all waiting to awaken…or go forever to sleep.
The film is quietly surreal. In one scene, a group runs around rapidly unwrapping plastic covered bodies at a hospital, the thrown plastic turning the calm space into a carnival. Bellochio has a masterful eye for choosing images to express the most in every scene. An especially comic and powerful image came when a group of politicians stood against a projection of their party’s rally as they were photographed, the projection making their faces indecipherable, a blank mass. When the senator decides to split with the party later in the film after having a differing opinion on Eluana’s case, he passes the same projection, his face a silhouette. This separation between the man and his party is expressed through these images in a way perhaps deeper than language. Each of the plots and images has something distinct and unexpected to say about the nature of these relationships. The film, moving far outside the specific Italian events, makes one think about the very nature of love and care. What does it mean to care for someone who may or may not want to be rescued, I found myself asking. At the end of the film, a sleeping beauty is awakened by her prince but we cannot say whether or not she will soon drift back to the sleep of death. She opens the window. Can she stay still?
Dormant Beauty is released Friday, June 6th at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.