Synopsis: Edmond, a man in his sixties whose wife has recently passed away, is told about a secret establishment where men can spend an entire night in bed alongside beautiful, sleeping young women, who stretch, roll over and dream, but never awaken. Bedazzled by their seductive yet innocent tenderness, but distressed about the reason for their deep sleep, he delves into the mystery of the house of sleeping beauties.
Based on the beautifully strange novella by Yasunari Kawabata, acclaimed writer-director-actor Vadim Glowna has crafted a mysterious thriller about loneliness, sex, eroticism and mortality.
eyelights: its atmosphere. its photography. its set design. its sexiness.
eyesores: its opacity. its unsatisfying conclusion.
“She’s more experienced? All she does is sleep!”
I love sleeping next to a woman. I’m not talking sex here; I mean actually sleeping, naked, with someone else. Arms draped over each other, spooning, joined at the hips, the warmth of skin on skin. It’s delightful. To me, it’s one of the greatest pleasures of life.
So long as there are no disturbances (ex: snoring), of course.
I don’t know what I’d do if my life were devoid of this contact. There hasn’t been enough of it, admittedly, but there has been enough that I don’t feel deprived. But there may come a time when this will no longer be possible, perhaps as time takes its toll.
Would I then partake in the opportunity of paying for such contact?
In ‘Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen’, a grieving Edmond is told by his friend Kigo about such an offer. Telling him that it might be a welcome distraction from his existential crises, Kigo refers him to a house where men pay to sleep next to anesthetized young women.
Based on Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata’s 1969 novella ‘Nemureru Bijo’, the picture finds Edmond skeptical at first but nonetheless compelled to return regularly, each time forced to sleep next to a different woman due to his inability to schedule his time ahead.
Fueled by Kigo’s stories of unusual incidents at the house and after seeing someone being dumped in the trunk of a car by the Madam and her lackeys, Edmond grows more and more curious about the sleeping beauties and their clients. His inquisitions stir the pot.
Edmond may come to regret his indiscretion.
What I liked most about ‘Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen’ was its atmosphere. Basking in an aura of mystery, the picture kept me intrigued throughout even though there wasn’t much going on. How can such a house operate? Who is the Madam? Who are all these women?
And where are all the clients?
I really enjoyed the photography and set design; though there were few locations in this decidedly low-budget film, director Vadim Glowna made everything seem larger-than-life, filling the screen. The house itself was lovely, rooted as it was in the 19th century.
And, naturally, I very much enjoyed the sight of all these lovely young women, naked, still, like a nature morte. There’s something disquieting about it at first, but when one settles into the idea that they’re just sleeping, peaceful, quiet, it’s actually slightly enticing.
All ethical questions aside, who wouldn’t want to snuggle up next to them?
There was something subtly erotic about the beautiful bodies, the slow caresses, the red drapes, the enveloping sheets. It wasn’t sexual, but it was sexy, and it made me think that I would really love to visit a place like that if it existed – if only out of curiosity.
The film’s biggest challenge is its opacity: not only is it difficult to know exactly what is going on in that house, but the characters’ motivations are unclear: Why does Edmond keep returning? Why does the Madam answer his questions? Why does he take the drugs?
It’s unclear. It’s mind-boggling.
Thankfully, we do get to peer into the characters’ internal lives via voice-overs, which expose their various internal monologues. It’s not a subtle technique, but it’s probably the only way to express what mere images can’t convey without being a bit pretentious.
With Edmond, it could get slightly tedious, however, because he was constantly running over all sorts of existential questions in his head. For some people, this would be the meat of the picture, but I lost interest after a while; he overthought everything.
He just went on and on and on.
He did bring up some interesting questions, obviously, like what’s preventing him from hurting the girls he’s spending time with. Or what are the limits of this arrangement, exactly? But it annoyed me that he wouldn’t just savour being able to snuggle with someone.
(Well, at least he’s a moral, ethical person.)
I find the concept of this picture intriguing. Having read in recent years about people selling sleeping time with them, or seeing snuggle meet-up groups get organized in my neck of the woods, it’s quite clear that human contact is more important than we think.
I’d never read the book or heard of this movie until recently. I had seen ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, which is also inspired by Kawabata, amongst other things (it also changes the focus to the girl instead of the client), but I didn’t know that there so many adaptations.
There have been three more over the years. Frankly, I like the concept enough that I may check them out. But I can’t say that ‘Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen’ was entirely satisfying. Its opacity made it difficult for me to fully appreciate. But it’s intriguing.
I’ll surely see it again someday.
Date of viewing: May 22, 2017